Today’s announcement that Justice Zacaroli had found in favour of ARC/TRP in its claim against SIS may not appear to have a great deal to do with followers of a greyhound racing website. OR it could be massively significant for the whole industry.
The following is a rough sketch, necessarily missing many finer details, of what this complex issue is all about.
It concerns two Goliaths of of the betting/broadcasting industries concluding a three year old legal dispute that, give or take, everyone was pretty much expecting.
Basically, back in 2017 Ladbrokes, Corals and Betfred refused to take TRP’s horse racing coverage into their shops, even though they were betting on them.
ARC/TRP claimed that the data supplied by them in a separate deal to The Tote, for pool betting, was being unlawfully hijacked and used by the three betting companies . They issued proceedings against the trio, plus the company actually delivering the information via its betting shop service, SIS.
Within six months the three betting firms had relented and agreed to pay for TRP horse racing. Since then, Corals and Ladbrokes have merged, and the case against them and Betfred has been settled, but the High Court Action against SIS continued – until today.
Those familiar with the story can skip the next bit of background . . .
For many years BAGS ran greyhound service on behalf of its members, the betting industry (big and small) and SIS supplied everything between track and shop. But when BAGS told SIS to reduce the cost, the media rights company (significantly owned by Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfred, Tote and William Hill, plus some venture capitalists) decided that they could go it alone and have a monopoly control, much as BAGS had done previously.
The SIS plan could probably have operated on the basis of ten(ish) tracks, of which six were bookmaker owned (Hills still owned Sunderland and Newcastle). It would have meant that half the UK’s betting-shop-dependent greyhound tracks would probably close. But then the plan started to unravel.
Instead, eight tracks, fearing extinction, formed Greyhound Media Group (GMG) comprising Belle Vue, Kinsley, Nottingham, Peterborough, Poole, Sheffield, Swindon and Yarmouth and they reached a deal with ARC (owners of 16 horserace courses and SIS’s biggest rival) who nipped in to buy Newcastle and Sunderland. Towcester, who were part of the TRP, due to their horse racing commitment, then added their greyhound content.
SIS appeared to have been wrong-footed and were left looking as though they themselves wouldn’t be able to compile a fixture list suitable for the shops. But by throwing lots of money at it, and signing up Henlow, Harlow, Doncaster, and Central Park, added to the four Ladbrokes Coral tracks, and some Irish content, SIS were able to stay in the game.
So – in January 2018, we saw the commencement of the media rights war in greyhound racing. ARC pretty much took over the traditional role of BAGS with the SIS breakaway organisation in opposition. The new amalgamated Ladbrokes Coral organisation, plus Betfred, began paying for the SIS service. The independent bookies largely bought the ARC service, some bought both, and William Hill took both.
As in all wars, there were winners and losers, and SIS’s four tracks were the big winners with lucrative contracts – worth way more than their ARC counterparts. The ARC tracks have been under pressure but remain convinced that their side will be victorious in the longer term.
The fact that the court found in favour of ARC can come as no surprise. Indeed both companies would be stymied if the courts had decided that media rights did not exist and anyone could take form, results, SPs etc, from anyone else without paying for them.
So SIS would always have expected to be paying compensation. However, the judgement also determined that there had been no conspiracy in relation to the offense. That would have, presumably, added considerably to the compensation claim.
So – SIS will have to pay a significant seven figure sum to ARC. That is clear.
However, if we go back to the initial issue involving Corals, Ladbrokes and Betfred, the details of which have never been released, we might be left wondering how much compensation was paid. Or indeed, as seems likely, was the deal to then take the service, tied in with the compensation offer?
Which leads us to the current situation. The betting industry resents paying for two greyhound services. Might SIS, or their shareholders (the bookies), offer a deal en lieu of compensation? Might this be a pivotal moment for the media rights war? Would Ladbrokes, Corals and Betfred be willing to take the ARC greyhound service?
It is not of course that simple. While there is barely enough product for two services – there would obviously be a surplus for one – which would only require around 2,200 fixtures per year (six meetings per day).
- Would an amalgamated product work? Presumably Ladbrokes Coral, would insist on their own four tracks being included. Also, they might not want some of the ARC tracks.
- Would the big three betting companies want to be reliant on ARC for their greyhound product? Unpalatable, though not impossible. They already take it in some of their overseas shops, the Ladbrokes Belgium operation recently signed up to ARC. And of course, they already take the ARC horseracing service.
- What would happen to the contracts of the tracks belonging to either side? I understand that the SIS contracts have four years remaining.
- If there was a saving to be made, might tracks be offered compensation to close? I can think of four or five who would probably take it.
- Word from the GMG tracks is that when the current horseracing contracts expire, ARC will insist on bundling greyhound racing as part of a future package. Might that now be brought forward?
There is such a lot to consider, and this particular writer doesn’t profess to have the intellect or foresight (or cunning) to predict how it will go.
However, anybody who isn’t concerned by developments should be, in my opinion.
(That is a very big BUT.) We have already seen more twists and turns in this saga than a dozen series of Game Of Thrones and SIS have proven master players.
Also – and this thought still hasn’t gone away. Given recent developments in the supermarket industry, if any of the tracks deemed ‘surplus’ to a unified greyhound service were to contact the Competition and Markets Authority. . . .
To quote the guy with the fat cigar: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”