22 May 2017 – Racing Post
Arena Racing Company (ARC) has swooped to buy Newcastle and Sunderland greyhound stadiums from bookmakers William Hill, in turn strengthening their hand in the betting-shop media rights battle.
The racecourse group has snatched the two greyhound tracks from under the noses of Sports Information Services (SIS), who had agreed a deal with William Hill in February. ARC has also joined Greyhound Media Group (GMG), which will now represent the media rights of 12 greyhound tracks and close to 70 per cent of greyhound fixtures shown in betting shops through the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service (BAGS).
The moves are the latest in the media rights merry-go-round involving the UK’s betting-shop market and are set to strengthen new betting-shop channel The Racing Partnership (TRP) in which ARC is the driving force. SIS has the rights to distribute Bags content until the end of this year but it would appear likely that TRP will take over those rights from the start of 2018. That would leave SIS with a shortage of live betting-shop content until the start of its media rights deal with Racecourse Media Group in April as it would have only horseracing coverage from Ireland and Chelmsford City and its remaining greyhound action from the UK and Ireland, putting downward pressure on the price it can charge.
TRP has its own problems, with Betfred and Ladbrokes-Coral yet to sign up to the service, which is costing ARC millions of pounds in media-rights income, although this deal will put pressure on those firms to come to agreement from at least the new year. ARC said it will take over the operational running of both greyhound stadiums and responsibility for the 160 employees across the two sites.
Chief executive Martin Cruddace said: “We are really delighted to have moved at pace to acquire the tracks and join our new partners at GMG as part of a long-term deal. “We very much look forward to working with the great teams at both stadiums and developing our relationship with the greyhound industry.” Newcastle, where ARC also owns the racecourse, and Sunderland stage 520 greyhound racing fixtures a year, of which 384 are part of the Bags schedule.
GMG director of operations Brent Dolan said: “We are very pleased to welcome ARC and are delighted that they see the merit of working closely together in producing what we aim to be the best greyhound racing available anywhere in the world. We look forward to working with Bags to continue to produce a cost-effective and value product for the UK LBO [licensed betting offices] market and to export GMG racing worldwide.”
Although the announcement that SIS was set to buy Newcastle and Sunderland broke in February, the deal was not expected to be completed until the end of this month. Only last week an article on the SIS website said the company was “currently in the process of acquiring Newcastle and Sunderland stadia from William Hill, demonstrating our commitment to the sport and our confidence in greyhound racing as a betting product”.
It is understood that Arc became involved in a counter-offer only in the past fortnight. SIS, in which William Hill has a 19.5 per cent stake, was contacted for comment on Monday evening but senior figures were unavailable. William Hill said they anticipated the deal would be completed in a matter of weeks.
Group communications director Ciaran O’Brien said: “William Hill can confirm we have reached initial agreement with Arena Racing Company for the sale of Newcastle and Sunderland greyhound stadia. We anticipate the agreement will complete in the coming weeks following the appropriate competition and regulatory approvals.”