BHB forced to axe palns for hike in racecard payments

Oram: "BHB made catastrophic misjudgement

Pressure from newspapers, sponsors, bookies and the Racecourse Association has forced the British Horseracing Board to withdraw its demand to newspapers for massively increased payments to publish racecards.

In an about-turn last weekend, BHB chairman Peter Savill told the Racing Post the board’s proposals to hike the charge to the industry from £40,000 to £1.2m a year were "dead" and it was unequivocally withdrawing its demands.

His statement came after a wounding battle between the press and the BHB, with newspapers dropping sponsors’ names from published racecards and failing to publish some of the cards.

But the battle is not over yet. Newspaper Publishers Association director Steve Oram said he was no longer sure the NPA council would accept even a return to the status quo.

Editors had taken the opportunity to completely review their coverage of racing, he said. The space given to racecards might go to other sports in future.

"Whatever the BHB comes up with, the NPA council will have to debate it at its next meeting on 5 December," said Oram. "The BHB has made a catastrophic misjudgement."

Last Friday, Oram rejected an initial statement by Savill which read: "I have today asked the BHB executive to withdraw with immediate effect BHB’s proposed pricing policy for publishing racecards in the media and to move to extend the current agreement with the Press Association to the end of 2003.

"I have also requested the BHB executive to continue talks during 2003 on BHB’s racecard fees with individual newspapers and to seek a joint Working Party with the Newspaper Publishers Association to develop a mutual strategy for horseracing coverage in the national press.

"I trust that the NPA will participate in this positive initiative and encourage its members to reinstate publication of all racecards, including sponsors’ names, with immediate effect."

But that was not enough for the NPA, which wanted an unequivocal withdrawal of the new charging proposals.

Savill later clarified that he was withdrawing the proposals unequivocally, but this week Nigel Smith, BHB’s commercial managing director, said the board was seeking meetings to "clarify the way forward". The NPA was still awaiting the board’s call on Wednesday.

By Jean Morgan

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