Breeders' Cup Limited, the organisation that runs the Breeders' Cup World Championships, has surprisingly announced that NBC will take over the broadcast coverage of the prestigious annual horse racing event from this year.
ESPN, which had two years left on an eight-year deal, has apparently stepped aside, citing a change in programming strategy as its reason for withdrawing.
The ESPN deal did not include a rights fee for the Breeders' Cup organisers, but instead was based on the horse racing event being able to sell its own television advertising.
The NBC deal, described only as 'multi-year', is likely to include a rights fee.
As part of the new deal, the Breeders' Cup Classic, the blue riband race of the meeting, will be broadcast live on national primetime television across the US for the first time.
In total, NBC and NBC Sports Network will present nine and a half hours of coverage of the 2012 event, which runs from Friday 2nd to Saturday 3rd November.
NBC broadcast the Breeders' Cup from 1984 to 2005, when ESPN signed its deal. Sam Flood, who has remained as executive producer of the NBC Sports Group as the presidential baton has been passed from Dick Ebersol to Mark Lazarus, was a features producer on NBC's award winning 1992 Breeders' Cup coverage.
The network has gone on something of a racing rights spree of late and last year was able to broadcast all three Triple Crown events, the Kentucky Derby, which was signed last year, the Preakness and the Belmont.
“Everyone here is delighted that the Breeders’ Cup has returned home,” said Jon Miller, president, programming, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “Bringing back this prestigious event, combined with our long-term partnerships for the Triple Crown with Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, in addition to the Preakness and Belmont cements the NBC Sports Group as the home of horse racing.”
“We are extremely excited to begin our new relationship with NBC and the NBC Sports Group in televising the Breeders’ Cup World Championships as the finale to its expanded commitment to thoroughbred racing,” said Craig Fravel, president and chief executive of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. “In addition to fans enjoying the best in international competition over the two days of the Championships on NBC Sports Network, we look forward to NBC showcasing the Breeders’ Cup Classic in primetime.”
The deal has come as something of a bolt from the blue. Only in October Breeders' Cup senior vice president Carter Carnegie told SportsPro: "We’re in an eight-year deal with ESPN so at this point in time we’re not really focusing on TV. TV rights fee is not something that we really focus on; distribution yes.
"ESPN are a great partner; I think they enjoy having the prestige of our event while at the same time we have the economic, so it’s somewhat of a shared revenue model, but the onus is on us to go and package it and sell it. That kind of control allows us to create valuable packages for partners."
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the racing world, the British Racecourse Association has announced an all-time record for racecourse attendance in the UK last year.
2011 saw 6.15 million adult visitors across British racecourses in 2011, exceeding the previous record, set in 2004, by 100,000.
The stellar result is believed to have been driven by a combination of good weather and progressive marketing techniques, the likes of which have seen the 'try racing for free' day in April bring in an extra 63,000 people.
According to the Racecourse Association release, 'of the 60 racecourses around Britain, 37 saw a rise in average attendance and improvements were witnessed in most months of the year and most days of the week.'
Breeders’ Cup Ltd – NBC  ESPN – espn