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Threat to TV racing rights

Date

Chris Roots, Sydney

Victoria Racing Club chairman Michael Burn.

Victoria Racing Club chairman Michael Burn. Photo: John Woudstra

THE future of a multimillion-dollar deal for the TV racing rights in New South Wales is being stalled by infighting over who should sit on the board of broadcaster TVN.

The TVN board has been in caretaker mode for more than three months and remains at a stalemate as powerbrokers in NSW and Victoria attempt to gain control of the pay-TV racing broadcaster.

The new board needs to be in place before a chief executive can be appointed to replace Peter Sweeney, who will leave this month. More importantly, the deal that will secure the broadcaster's future, cannot be finalised until then.

TVN owns the rights to screen metropolitan racing in Sydney and all meetings in Victoria. It also has a heads of agreement with Racing NSW to broadcast NSW provincial and country racing from 2013, which is expected to add more than $100 million to the value of the company.

Attempts to appoint a new board have hit several obstacles. It is believed Victoria Racing Club chairman Michael Burn and Melbourne Racing Club counterpart Michael Symons have both been put forward by their clubs.

But The Age understands there is opposition to them in some quarters because they previously held consultancy contracts with the broadcaster.

It is understood Burn and Symons both charged TVN $15,000 a month for work on a failed attempt to take over Sky Channel and to secure the continuation of the television rights for Sydney metropolitan racing with the Australian Turf Club in 2011.

Supporters of Burn and Symons argue that they are among the most qualified investment bankers in the country, working for Macquarie Bank and Canterbury Partners respectively, and that the consultancy was done at less than market rates.

The consultancy contracts were identified while Racing NSW was carrying out due diligence on TVN.

Sources have told The Age that another contract delivered a monthly payment of $30,000 to a consultant involved in the network's foundation, a payment that has stood since TVN was established in 2006.

That ongoing payment has been stopped. It was one of the reasons Sweeney lost the support of the stakeholders in TVN.

The new board will have eight members, two each from the ATC and Racing NSW and one each from Racing Victoria, the VRC, MRC and Moonee Valley Racing Club.

The ATC owns 50 per cent of TVN and has asked Racing NSW, as the state's racing regulator, to join the board to represent provincial and country clubs in NSW. ATC chief executive Darren Pearce, ATC board member Laurie Macri and Racing NSW boss Peter V'landys are set to be three of the NSW representatives on the board.

The other half of the company is owned by the MRC, VRC, MVRC and Country Racing Victoria.

The three metropolitan clubs will each hold a seat on the board, while CRV interests will be looked after by another RVL representative as the regulatory authority in the state.

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