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ITV ‘seeks £1.5m rebate’ on Grand National rights fee

Davy Russell riding Tiger Roll (R, maroon cap) clear the water jump on their way to winning the 2019 Grand National (by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

UK commercial broadcaster ITV is said to be seeking a £1.5m (€1.67m/$1.83m) reduction in its rights fee following the cancellation of this year’s Grand National.

The development, which has been reported by The Telegraph, comes with ITV in the midst of negotiating a three-year extension to its contract for UK horse racing. It is thought that the rights fee compensation will need to be resolved before a new deal can be struck.

Talks between the relevant stakeholders are “intense but polite”, one insider told the newspaper.

In January 2016, ITV secured a four-year deal, from 2017 to 2020, to show British horse racing on free-to-air television, dislodging free-to-air rival Channel 4 following a competitive tender process.

The current agreement is worth £7.5m per season. Talks over a new rights contract began in April last year.

Racecourse Media Group chief executive Richard Fitzgerald is heading up the negotiations with ITV. He told Racing TV on May 10 that he was “positive a deal would get done” but said that the timing of the Covid-19 lockdown interruption had “not been helpful”.

The loss of the Grand National, the biggest annual horse race in the UK, was last month reported to have left an estimated £500m hole in the sport. Jockey Club Racecourses, which owns Aintree Racecourse, home of the three-day Aintree Festival, of which the Grand National is a part, announced the cancellation of the race when the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) shut down all racing in the UK in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The BHA last week said Newcastle will host an eight-race all-weather card on June 1, should government restrictions to control Covid-19 ease sufficiently to stage meetings behind closed doors. The BHA’s proposed fixture list for the first eight days of racing following its suspension includes 18 meetings at seven tracks, with the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas, the first Classics of the year, to remain at Newmarket on June 6-7.

In place of this year’s Grand National, ITV aired a virtual version of the race, which was watched by a peak of 4.8 million people.

While the figure was half the peak of 9.6 million who watched the Grand National live on ITV in 2019, it marked a significant increase on the 737,000 who watched the Virtual Grand National 12 months earlier, and on the usual audience figures for horse racing on ITV. Last year’s Derby, for instance, was watched by 1.75 million.

An average of 4.3 million viewers watched the 30-minute Virtual Grand National programme on ITV. The average for the (longer) Grand National programme last year was 5.4 million, equal to a 39-per-cent market share.