Ed Chamberlin warned racing is “sleepwalking into a crisis” as the threat of losing its terrestrial coverage continues to hang menacingly over the sport.
Chamberlin left his lead football presenter role at Sky to front ITV Racing when the broadcaster took over as the sport’s network partner at the start of 2017.
On the back of buoyant audience numbers and industry recognition – including a BAFTA for its 2017 Grand National show – ITV was widely expected to secure a second term when the four-year deal expires at the end of this year.
But, with just seven months of the contract to run, talks with Jockey Club CEO Delia Bushell – formerly chief commercial officer at Sky Italia before spending three years at BT Sport’s managing director – are stalled at an impasse.
“I’m really worried,” said Chamberlin, whose former bosses at Sky Sports are waiting in the wings. “Sports TV deals are normally finalised a year in advance, at least.
“I was stupid and naïve in thinking, because everything had gone so well – our viewing figures were excellent, obviously we had won a few awards – I would be announcing a new ITV deal on January 1 2019.
“And yet, here we are – 18 months later – and there is no agreement. And we are in the middle of a global pandemic.
“I feel there is a real danger that horseracing is sleepwalking into a crisis.”
Frankie Dettori’s Gold Cup day four-timer at Royal Ascot last June attracted a peak ITV viewership of 1.4million – the meeting’s highest figure for seven years.
By contrast, just over 66,000 watched on Sky Sports Racing and Chamberlin believes interest in racing – and with it revenue – will plummet if it chooses to sever network links for the first time.
“Racing is a sport that relies on sponsorship,” he added. “Eyeballs are so important.
“Without eyeballs, you’re struggling.
“The importance of terrestrial television is summed up by the announcement in the last 24 hours that Premier League football has four free-to-air matches on the BBC next month.
“Yet racing already has more than 90 days on terrestrial television and, rather than grabbing the opportunity to keep that going, in recent months it has seemed willing to give that up.
“I find that – and I’m using these words in the context of our racing world rather than in a wider sense – staggering and alarming.”
Chamberlin admits the coronavirus lockdown has been “frustrating” – but took on a new perspective as a result of events early on April 4.
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