Freshfields wins £750m horse betting deal

Freshfields has fought off competition from two rival magic circle firms to advise Arena Leisure on a consortium bid for horse racing media rights worth £750m.

The consortium is called Go Racing and is made up of Channel 4, BSkyB and Arena Leisure, which is a long-standing client of Nicholson Graham & Jones, although this time the consortium opted to use a magic circle firm.

A source within the consortium says that three magic circle firms made bids for the work.

According to investment bank Merrill Lynch, worldwide horse betting is worth around £65bn without including any additional income brought in by online gambling.

Under the agreement, Channel 4 will be able to retain the terrestrial coverage rights, while BSkyB and Arena Leisure will be able to use Channel 4’s pictures for interactive betting on its digital broadcasting and internet platforms respectively. It is believed that Go Racing will seek to sub-license the coverage to the BBC.

Go Racing has set 10 November as its final deadline for a decision on the bid, and it is believed that its only competitor will be television company Carlton Communications, which offered £530m for the rights. Carlton is being advised by Macfarlanes, with which it has a long-standing relationship.

Channel 4 is using its own deputy head of legal James Conyers and Olswang partner David Zeffman, while BSkyB is using its own legal team. The bid is being coordinated by Real Enterprises.

Freshfields won the work to act for Arena Leisure after a beauty parade, which was led by corporate partner Martin Taylor and assistant Peter Lawson. Taylor says: “Arena Leisure decided to choose a larger outfit for the issue of media rights and chose Freshfields for its corporate capability.”

Freshfields would be a major beneficiary if the bid is successful, as it is believed that BSkyB could use Star TV, the broadcaster’s Asian arm, to corner that region’s betting market, and Freshfields is hoping to secure further work from Arena Leisure.

Arena Leisure finance director Ian Penrose says: “We were delighted with Freshfields: with their knowledge of sport and horse racing in particular, as well as the competition issues affecting sport, coupled with their overall knowledge of the media business.”