Sky Sports has significantly strengthened a likely bid to snatch the Grand National and other major races from ITV by announcing major billing for a new high-budget dedicated channel.
Alex Hammond, the Sky Sports News host, has been unveiled as the channel’s main presenter as bosses plan to give racing the “Premier League treatment”, with high definition slow-motion footage and, eventually, drone cameras.
At The Races, a satellite channel watched mainly by racing purists, will relaunch in January as Sky Sports Racing, which the broadcaster hopes will significantly boost ratings and broaden the sport’s appeal. Having already added Ascot, Bangor and Chester to its portfolio of UK racecourses, Sky is now among the favourites to win the “terrestrial” events when they come up for renewal from 2020.
Matthew Imi, chief executive of At The Races, insisted the broadcaster was not “moving their tanks” on the lawn to battle with ITV, which has been showing terrestrial racing since winning the rights from Channel 4 in 2012. He also promised their their new broad-appeal coverage would not compromise the current betting audience.
“Terrestrial racing has always been an important part of the sport in terms of showcasing to tens of millions of households,” said Imi, at the channel’s launch in Osterley, West London. “So really whether it’s ITV, Channel 4, BBC, we believe that having terrestrial exposure is important. We are not moving our tanks on the lawn. We don’t want a relationship with ITV to be portrayed as adversarial because it certainly isn’t from our perspective. We both have the interests of racing at our heart and we both want to drive as broad an audience as we can.”
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