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'We want to see proactivity from racing'.

BY AXING more than half its racing portfolio, the BBC has made clear what it does not want. However, it also knows what it does want, and if it gets it, there could yet be more than 13 meetings a year for licence fee payers to enjoy from 2010 to 2012.

"What we have announced is a minimum commitment from the BBC, and that's an important point to get across," says Dominic Coles.

"It could well be that we broadcast more racedays over the next three years if it suits our schedules and there is an appetite from the courses to offer us something different. If racing can come up with juicy propositions, we will be interested in looking at them."

Defining what "juicy" means to the BBC, Coles explains: "The racing itself is critical and the core product, but the surround sound is important in attracting new audiences. When races do deliver the larger audiences, more value is delivered to the BBC, which means we can commit more of the licence fee in return. The equation for us is quite simple - if it delivers large audiences, we pay."

Racing UK thought that the BBC - or, indeed, ITV, Channel 4 or Five - would pay for the much-maligned Sovereign Series.

"The package of ten major Flat races was billed as being capable of creating a bidding war between Britain's four terrestrial broadcasters, but none of them bid for it. However, Coles still applauds racing for trying to sell its product in a new way.

"I'd like to keep most of our views on the Sovereign Series confidential," says Coles, before actually saying quite a bit.

"The principle behind the idea was an admirable one and I have a lot of time for the individuals who were putting it forward, but the proposal wasn't right at the time for the broadcasters or the sports' rights market.

"It could have worked ten years ago and it may work in ten years' time, but that particular type of proposal, where all the rights are sold to one broadcaster, didn't fit us, Channel 4 or any other broadcaster. For that reason it was deemed a failure, but either it or a derivative of it should continue to be explored by the racing authorities."

Coles adds: "All sports are having to try harder to be seen and heard. There has been huge investment in football, while cricket has reinvented itself through Twenty20. Racing needs to keep up, and the way it can do that is by being similarly inventive in the way it packages itself. At the moment, the execution isn't quite right, but the security of a three-year commitment from ourselves and Channel 4 will buy more time for racing to continue to develop ideas.

"We want to see proactivity from racing. In the past, it has just let the individual races speak for themselves. Looking at ways of remarketing horseracing to new audiences is all about survival."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2009
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