The five racecourses that comprise United Irish Racecourses have been offered €100,000 per fixture for their media rights.
The breakaway UIR group made up of Limerick, Thurles, Kilbeggan, Roscommon and Sligo, confirmed on Friday they have received an “unsolicited offer” from Arena Racing Company.
ARC, which owns 16 racetracks in Britain, and is a commercial partner with Sky Sports Racing, is currently in negotiations for the purchase of Dundalk racecourse.
Those negotiations are understood to have stalled recently as Ireland’s 26 racecourses are at loggerheads over a proposed €47 million per annum offer from Satellite Information Services and Racecourse Media Group to continue their current media rights deal for a further five years.
In January UIR was formed due to unhappiness about how vital media rights income is distributed by the sport’s ruling body, Horse Racing Ireland. It said trust in HRI, which operates four tracks here, had collapsed.
Last October HRI’s media rights committee, which is legislatively charged with negotiating media rights for all 26 courses, gave preferred bidder status to SIS/RMG.
It means any alternative offer from the Racing Partnership, which includes ARC and Sky Sport Racing, couldn’t be put to racecourses.
However, with a split in the sector threatened, and dispute over whether a majority vote will be enough for acceptance of the SIS/RMG offer, ARC has added another twist to the story.
“We have received an unsolicited offer from Arena Racing Company (ARC) and we have passed the offer onto to HRI as the negotiating agent,” UIR’s secretary, and Kilbeggan boss, Paddy Dunican, said on Friday.
He wouldn’t comment on the finances involved in that offer, but cross-channel sources put it at a guaranteed €100,000 per fixture.
ARC’s interest in Dundalk’s all-weather circuit has been ongoing for the past year and sources describe the company’s surprise offer to five of the country’s smaller tracks for media rights in terms of a “symmetry of interest.” No one from ARC was prepared to comment.
ARC and SIS are in competition to supply pictures to betting shops while Sky Sports Racing has home viewing rights to ARC owned tracks in Britain. Currently, day to day pictures of Irish racing are behind a paywall on Racing TV which is owned by RMG.
The situation is further complicated by how HRI is charged with the allocation of fixtures while its media rights committee, chaired by the Punchestown boss, Conor O’Neill, and which also includes HRI’s chairman Nicky Hartery, is charged under legislation with negotiating for authorised courses.
Paddy Dunican repeated on Friday that other courses besides UIR are unhappy with the new offer recommended by the media rights committee at a recent Association of Irish Racecourses meeting where a vote on accepting it or not was postponed to next month.
He said UIR is committed to working with AIR and that he doesn’t see any need for a split although he dismissed any potential impact in terms of fixture allocation if it did occur.
“HRI is a state agency and is bound by all the exigencies of fair procedures and equity,” Dunican said.
He confirmed that UIR has got legal advice on whether AIR can pass the proposed SIS deal on a majority vote.
“Each racecourse owner decides who accesses their property in line with the property rights (and) are protected under our constitution,” he said.
It is understood that HRI has passed details of the ARC offer onto the media rights committee.