FitzGerald exits RMG to continue period of change in UK racing
By Jonathan Rest
Richard FitzGerald, one of the most prominent media figures in the UK horse racing industry, has stepped down as chief executive of Racecourse Media Group, the umbrella organisation for 37 racecourses in the UK and Ireland.
FitzGerald (pictured), who joined RMG in 2008, will move away gradually over the course of the next six weeks, with RMG finance director Martin Stevenson to become acting chief executive.
Prior to RMG, FitzGerald was chief executive of English soccer club Aston Villa, having earlier spent 18 years at the IMG agency, where he held various senior posts, including chief operating officer and head of new media of TWI, IMG’s television production and distribution division.
FitzGerald's announced exit comes days after RMG, along with other venue owners Arena Racing Company, the Jockey Club and Ascot Racecourse, signed off on a new three-year, free-to-air domestic rights deal with UK commercial broadcaster ITV, worth a reported £9 million ($11.85 million) per year, up from £7.5 million under the current contract.
Paying tribute to FitzGerald, RMG chairman Roger Lewis: said: “The recent renewal of the RMG contract with ITV until 2023, the successful launch of our new Watch & Bet Service in June, and ensuring RMG is fully operational following the Covid-19 outbreak and so generating significant revenues for our racecourses, has created the right moment for Richard to announce his decision to step down.
“The achievements of RMG, which have driven its financial performance with Richard as chief executive are significant, and include a ground-breaking data licensing and production service, an innovative LBO [licensed betting office] deal with SIS, the securing of the rights to Irish racing, the rebrand and launch of Racing TV, enhancing its HD service, and the expansion of RMG opportunities across the world.”
Reflecting on his 12 years in charge, FitzGerald said: “The business has flourished and delivered on the vision of the founding shareholders around a collective approach to commercialising their media and data rights. There is never a good time to step down but with resumption of racing, the new Watch & Bet deals, the terrestrial TV renewal and launch in Italy of fixed odds, and a new cycle of renewals starting shortly, it seems the right time to step down.
“It has been a great journey and I have enjoyed working with a strong, capable, committed and stable team to deliver the results we have been able to achieve consistently over the last decade.”
In late 2018, FitzGerald oversaw the rebrand of RMG's dedicated horse racing channel Racing UK to Racing TV, which was effective from 2019 and took into account the addition of extensive Irish meetings to its portfolio.
Racing TV has faced renewed competition for rights over the past 18 months, after pay-TV giant Sky acquired rival At The Races, and rebranded it Sky Sports Racing.
FitzGerald's exit continues a period of senior managerial upheaval in the UK horse racing industry.
A year ago, Simon Bazalgette, who FitzGerald succeeded at RMG in 2008, was replaced as chief executive of the Jockey Club by Delia Bushell, the former managing director of BT Sport, the UK pay-TV broadcaster.
In January, Paul Fisher and Nick Rust, respectively, the chief executives of Jockey Club Racecourses and the British Horseracing Authority, both announced their departures.
Rust will leave at the end of this year, with Fisher having left in February.
Fisher resurfaced in late June, alongside Bazalgette, as the pair teamed up to launch Global Venue Services, an advisory, investment and services business that will work across the sports, leisure, media and entertainment sectors.Sportcal