Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Sport is business

Published:Tuesday | May 14, 2019 | 12:21 AM

On May 8, there was an interesting development affecting the business of horse racing.

Judgment was handed down by the United Kingdom High Court in favour of Arena Racing Company (ARC) and The Racing Partnership (TRP) against Sports Information Services (SIS) in a dispute over exploitation of media rights for live horse racing broadcasts.

A brief background: Recently, SIS’s grip on UK horse racing media rights and its complicated web of middlemen had been eroded by racetracks fed up with providing content but earning little or nothing from media’s commercial exploitation of same. Early in 2017, six racecourses (controlled by ARC) formed TRP to exclusively license media rights from those and other independent racecourses direct to retail bookmakers and others. The majority of independent bookies contracted directly with TRP to receive a media rights package comprising live data/audio-visual coverage of races.

But SIS wasn’t surrendering its feeding tree easily. It farmed enough data from non-ARC/TRP websites and other sources (helped by the Tote’s presence at tracks) to create an unofficial service supplied without paying TRP. TRP sued. During the case, some ­bookies, who’d taken the unofficial SIS feed, buckled and settled media rights agreements with TRP. The High Court found that live race day data relating to TRP races was confidential; TRP had the exclusive right to disseminate it; and SIS/The Tote breached duties of confidence owed to TRP by unlawfully taking, supplying and commercially exploiting that data. Damages are to be assessed.

THE LESSONS

Many lessons can be learned from this:

* It posthumously vindicates Pat Rousseau [as chairman of Caymanas Track Limited (CTL)] who was lambasted by OCG for ensuring live simulcasts accompanied CTL’s English racing betting when CTL (after Pat recused himself) negotiated a licence from then SIS exclusive Caribbean middleman International Media Content Limited (IMC; parent of SportsMax, of which Pat was also chairman). This judgment establishes categorically that CTL had no choice; wasn’t “awarding a government contract”, but seeking a licence to use media content from the exclusive rights owner; and “findings” against him by OCG were without merit. A new CTL board, convened after Pat was removed, immediately signed an identical contract with IMC.

* Caymanas Park racing content has commercial value and can be exploited by offering bookmakers licences to show racing live in their betting shops. I see Supreme Ventures Limited (parent of racing promoter Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited) just acquired Post to Post, so now owns 90 per cent share of the bookmaking market, so I’m not sure how the track will profit, if at all, from any scheme to commercially exploit its live racing feed (now produced by the same SportsMax/IMC) to bookies but, sufficient unto the day.

* Sports journalists must take a crash course in the business of the sport they cover. In horse racing, coverage of its business falls somewhere between superficial and missing in action, presumed dead. So consumers of horse racing ‘analysis’ are fed a boring diet of ‘My pick for the first race is …’ without any attempt to delve into the business fundamentals upon which that ‘first race’ is produced.

For example, I’ve seen or heard NOTHING in media approximating an in-depth story regarding an undeclared false start for January 26’s 10th race, when gates 3 (closed) 4, 5, 11, 12 (partially closed) failed to open with the rest. Four. Months. Later. Gates 2 (eventual winner), 6, 8 and 10 were the first to open. The 6/5 favourite, in gate 12, one of the last to be ‘let go’, finished one and three-quarter lengths second. Any reporter who routinely reviews tapes of each day’s races should’ve noticed. New promoter SVREL, in winning the divestment bid, promised to invest $200 million in the first two years. How much for a new set of starting gates?

I’m sure I’ll be told this can be cured by returning to the handicapping system under which the then promoting company’s business ended up in receivership and liquidation. Barf.

Peace and Love!

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.