Sun drops racecard as nationals step up revolt against price hike

The Mail spearheaded the move to drop sponsors’ names from racecards

The Sun dropped a racecard from its sports pages on Thursday in the escalating row over a plan to increase the paper’s charges for the racing data from £3,000 to £340,000.

The Times will follow suit on Saturday.

National newspapers as a whole have wasted no time in expressing their anger over the British Horseracing Board’s demand to the industry for a £1.16m a year increase in payments for racecards.

The board, the sport’s governing body, intends to hike charges from around £40,000 a year to £1.2m.

The Sun intends to continue randomly excluding cards as it tries to force the BHB to think again.

Sun racing editor Damian Walker said: "We’re angry and unhappy at the BHB stance, which would be a huge own goal for the racing industry. We have done research in terms of the amount of space racing is given per week. That space has got huge costs to us. The BHB talks about racing having value to us, but we are not prepared to pay extortionate rates."

The press counter-attack began on Thursday last week. The Daily Mail knocked sponsors’ names off races when it printed the cards. In quick succession, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Daily Star joined in. By Tuesday, The Sun, Times and Independent had joined the protest.

Colin Gibson, sports editor of the Daily Mail, told Press Gazette before he spearheaded the revolt: "If we turned this round and started charging sponsors advertising rates, suddenly they’d find their bill would be close to £4m-£5m per newspaper."

Representatives from the BHB were on the Mail’s doorstep on Monday morning. Executive editor Robin Esser said: "We expressed our reservations about its proposals and we explained that we thought there was no justification and such a proposal might, if it were pursued, ruin the immense goodwill that has existed for a long time between racing and the Daily Mail. We did not negotiate."

Several sponsors had telephoned the Mail. "We suggested they refer their complaints to BHB," Esser said. The paper is also considering dropping racecards for minor meetings.

Mirror sports editor Dean Morse said his paper had omitted sponsors’ names "with regret" but "in our case the price hike is an increase of 5,000 per cent. We are not prepared to pay it and by removing sponsors’ names we hope to draw to the attention of the BHB the service newspapers provide to its industry. Horseracing gets a good deal out of newspapers and it should start realising that.

"I hope the BHB sees sense and resolves the dispute through negotiation with the Newspaper Publishers Association, otherwise the whole newspaper industry will start to question whether the sport is worth the amount of coverage it devotes to it."

The NPA has fixed a meeting with the BHB for 12 December.

By Jean Morgan

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