Papers join forces to fight 'extortionate' racecard fees

The fees for printing racecards in newspapers are set for a massive rise

One senior journalist who has seen the scale of the charges proposed by the sport’s governing body, the British Horseracing Board, said managements were "apoplectic with rage".

Fees to nationals would rise from £2,000 a month to between £95,000 and £350,000 a year. For the Racing Post, the heaviest user of the material, the charge could run into millions.

An extraordinary meeting of the Newspaper Publishers Association on Wednesday decided to take legal advice on collective action to stop the BHB in its tracks. NPA director Steve Oram said: "There was great, great concern and anger at what everyone present saw as a completely unwarranted rise for no justifiable reason." The BHB sent out a draft contract about 10 days ago which said it was planning new payments of £5,000 a year for papers with a circulation of less than 20 million copies a year – which would include most regional dailies – and 0.03p per copy for those selling more than 20 million. It was, it said, proposing to discuss the issue with each paper within 10 days.

The feeling among journalists is that the BHB is out to milk the media for more money. "That’s what they’ve tried to do with television but dealing with the print media is a different kettle of fish," said one source. "What they forget is that it is not the same sort of relationship they have with TV. Ours is much more historic and this would turn us from being partners in producing racecards into clients and customers. And who’s to say what will happen next year? Will they put the money up?"

The press sees refusing to publish racecards as a last resort – some editors do not place great value on printing them anyway – but believes it could find allies in racing’s sponsors, who get free exposure when papers publish details of races named after their companies.

A News International spokesman said: "Newspapers support the racing industry, race sponsors and, equally importantly, the betting industry to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds worth of publicity every year. Asking for extortionate fees on top is not reasonable.

"If BHB continues to pursue this proposal we will have to seek to mitigate the impact. The racing industry and community will, we believe, end up the very substantial losers." Jeremy Reed, managing director of Trinity Mirror’s sports division, who is already in discussions with the BHB, is also concerned by the draft proposals. "It’s a significant increase over what we are currently paying to the BHB."

The press feels the board is abusing a dominant position — it is under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading over alleged abuse of its dominant position on other matters – and that the proposed increases are discriminatory and excessive.

Even Football Dataco, with whom the press is renegotiating fees for text and picture use, charges just over £6,000 a year to print the fixture lists of English clubs and £3,000 to 4,000 for Scottish clubs.

Daily Mail executive editor Robin Esser said: "We shall obviously express our concerns because we want to find out what their justification is."

By Jean Morgan

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