There are presently 86 racing courses operating in the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland, or British Isles to use the geographic terminology. The breakdown by country is England (52), Ireland (24), Scotland (5), Wales (3) and Northern Ireland (2). Racing at these locations is an all year round occurrence, with only Christmas Day and Christmas Eve in the UK certain to have no fixtures each year.
The regularity of the sport ensures a constant stream of live content for sports broadcasters. Traditionally available on free-to-air television and within bookmaker betting shops, the market for live content changed in the early 2000s with the arrival of subscription channels. Much like the market for Premier League football a number of broadcasters now exist and “compete” with one another.
As Hoehn and Lancefield (2003) identify, completion occurs in a two-stage game; the first stage involves competing for rights to the race courses, if rights are non-exclusive or face close substitutes, broadcasters compete in respect of the quality of their coverage and analysis. The second is competition in the downstream market for consumers.
In the UK, there are two main racecourse owners. Arc Racing Company and Jockey Club. Between the two they control almost half of all British race courses. The remainder are owned independently.
Ireland is somewhat different. Horse Race Ireland (HRI), a government financed government body, manages the sport on an all-island basis with the two tracks in Northern Ireland directed from Co. Kildare. While ownership of the courses is largely private, direction, fixtures and the vast majority of funding comes from HRI.
Racing is available on free-to-air channels in the UK and Ireland on a weekly basis. That said, the number of races shown is limited and coverage is normally restricted to a Saturday. Remaining races can be viewed on a subscription basis by purchasing one of two channels; Attheraces (to be rebranded Sky Sports Racing from on or before January 1st, 2019) and Racing UK.
As on May 2018 Attheraces has the rights to all 15 Arena Racing Company, Hereford Racecourse (run by the local council), a number of independent tracks and all 26 race course on the island of Ireland. Racing UK holds the rights all 14 Jockey Club tracks, two run by Chester Race Company and numerous independent course.
Attheraces coverage of Irish racing has been excellent over the past decade or more. It will be interesting to see how the move to Racing UK (which may now require rebranding) works out.