Sky Sports Racing is aiming to provide the “strongest possible vehicle” for horseracing to broaden the sport’s audience and appeal after the new channel was officially launched on Wednesday.
Sky Sports Racing will take over next month from At The Races, whose chief executive Matthew Imi said at the launch: “We believe Sky Sports Racing will be a game changer for the sport, with a significant investment in production raising the bar for daily coverage of horseracing.”
More than 700 British fixtures will be broadcast in HD on Sky Sports Racing – to remain as Sky channel 415 – from January 1 to an anticipated 14 million homes, with Alex Hammond appointed as a key presenter.
Luke Harvey, Matt Chapman, recently crowned broadcaster of the year Jason Weaver, Gina Bryce and Hayley Moore are other presenters in the channel’s line-up, while Freddy Tylicki and Mick Fitzgerald will be among the pundits.
Sky Sports Racing will have a presenter on course at every British meeting and holds exclusive rights to a minimum of 200 meetings a year in France, where the presenting team consists of married couple Katherine Ford and Fabien Cailler.
Coverage from all 88 Hong Kong Jockey Club fixtures, Australia and the US, including the Breeders’ Cup, Kentucky Derby and Melbourne Cup, will be delivered, and there is the prospect of additional rights deals to be announced before the new year.
Imi said: “We have the capability to elevate events across our full range of channels, products and digital platforms, which will ensure we can take racing to a wider audience.
“We hope this will help to engage the casual racing or sports fan and also attract a younger demographic of audience, while maintaining the needs of the core racing fans.
“We’re very much focused on making Sky Sports Racing the strongest possible vehicle for the sport.”
Former jockeys Tylicki, Fitzgerald and Josh Apiafi, who rode for Martin Pipe as an amateur and is the co-founder of Rewards4Racing and former head of the Professional Jockeys Association, will be providing insight from their experiences in the saddle and of the sport.
Tylicki, 32, said: “I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve done a couple of television gigs before, including Get In [on At The Races] last year that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m very open-minded about it and hope I click with it.
“I’ve got plenty of professionals leading me and it’s a very interesting and curious opening for me.
“When you work with the likes of Jason Weaver and Luke Harvey, they just make you feel at ease as they’re so professional and you don’t even realise the cameras are there.
“That makes the whole experience that bit easier and I’m excited to get going.”
Will the switch to HD change live picture delays?
Rob Dakin, executive producer of At The Races
We don’t know exactly yet as we haven’t finished the end-to-end testing but it won’t be any worse. We’re hoping for improvements with the delivery from the racecourse now fully-fibred.
How will it pan out with the ITV and Sky Sports Racing presenters at Royal Ascot?
Jason Weaver, Luke Harvey and Matt Chapman will work for ITV at Royal Ascot next year and there’s no conflict from our point of view. We’ll have a great set of presenters in Alex Hammond, Hayley Moore and Gina Bryce at the meeting, among others.
How much of a blow was it to lose the Irish racing television rights?
Matthew Imi, chief executive of At The Races
We had a great relationship with Irish racing but ultimately they weren’t in control of the rights so it wasn’t their decision as far as who they licensed their broadcast rights to. We wish them well going forward and we’ve moved on and focused on our new channel. We work in media rights cycles and at some point Irish racing rights will come back on the market and we might be there to have a conversation with them.
Will there be a price change for Sky Sports Racing customers?
The prices will remain exactly the same. Sky Sports Racing will be available to all basic satellite and cable subscription packages, through Sky or Virgin, with no Sky Sports subscription required, as well as Vodafone Ireland and Eir customers in Ireland.
Kevin Blake and Jamie Lynch have also been recruited. Lynch will leave Timeform to join Sky Sports Racing on a full-time basis as a senior racing analyst.
Mike Cattermole, John Hunt, Sean Boyce, Zoey Bird, Martin Kelly, Simon Mapletoft, Anthony Ennis, Darrell Williams, Robert Cooper and John Blance will also form part of the presenting team.
No decisions have been made on any departures from ATR’s portfolio of presenters and pundits, which includes Derek Thompson and JA McGrath. Former Channel 4 stalwart John McCririck has also been a regular presence on ATR.
The core programme schedule from ATR will remain, with Get In among the shows continuing on Sky Sports Racing, as will The Sunday Forum in a new guise of The Sunday Debate, while Monday Night Racing, hosted by Hammond, will be launched next month.
The introduction of slow-mo camera finishes and touch-screen equipment for pundits and presenters will be in use to review races, while drones will be employed where possible to provide another angle to live racing coverage, which ATR executive producer Rob Dakin expects to be “informative, insightful and entertaining”.
Ascot, Bangor and Chester have agreed to join Sky Sports Racing during 2019, with coverage from those courses beginning in March, and Imi is open to the prospect of further additions in future.
He said: “We’re taking a very long-term view on the future of Sky Sports Racing and it doesn’t really depend on adding any particular tracks – we’ve got a fantastic product and we’re very confident we can grow the business on the back of that.
“We’d love to add additional UK tracks but it’s not our primary focus right now.
“If there are other racecourses who like what they see we can do, then they can approach us and our door will be open.”
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