ABC Sports will offer exclusive broadcast coverage of the Belmont Stakes, the final race of the prestigious Triple Crown, beginning in 2006, and ESPN has acquired distribution rights for the race across numerous outlets, including ESPN International, ESPN.com, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Classic under terms of a wide-ranging pact with the New York Racing Association (NYRA). In addition, the parties will explore opportunities involving emerging technologies such as video on demand, broadband, wireless applications and pay-per-view.
ABC Sports previously televised the Belmont Stakes from 1986 to 2000, garnering eight Eclipse Awards for outstanding achievement in the broadcasting of thoroughbred racing. ESPN has provided coverage of the news and races leading up to the Belmont Stakes since 1994. ESPN expanded its programming of the 2004 Belmont Stakes by more than 5 hours to better follow Smarty Jones' dramatic run for the Triple Crown. As part of that coverage, ESPN's Belmont Stakes Special Saturday, June 5 averaged 1,676,271 households and a 1.9 rating, making it the most-viewed and second highest-rated horse racing program in ESPN history.
There has been a Triple Crown possibility six of the last eight years at the Belmont and the last three consecutively. The Belmont Stakes was the highest-rated television program of the week each of the past two years. The 2004 Belmont Stakes averaged a 13.0 rating, making it the second highest-rated television program for the month of June and one of the highest-rated sporting events of the year.
"ABC Sports and ESPN have a rich history and a dedicated commitment to thoroughbred racing," said George Bodenheimer, president, ABC Sports and ESPN, Inc. "The Belmont Stakes further strengthens ABC Sports' lineup of championship television, and provides ESPN with another opportunity to utilize its multiple platforms to grow an event through unprecedented exposure."
C. Steven Duncker, vice chairman and COO of The New York Racing Association Inc., said, "We are very pleased with this agreement on two levels. The new agreement with ABC Sports is a great financial transaction with value that extends beyond the bottom line. The global availability of the event and the strong promotion of ABC and ESPN will produce additional benefits. The Belmont Stakes has grown significantly over the past 10 years through the efforts of the NYRA and our network partners. ABC Sports contributed to our past success and we look forward to working together again in 2006."
ESPN has expanded its horse racing coverage each of the past several years. In 2004, ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to televise 131 hours of horse racing programming, more than any other network.
ABC Sports and ESPN continue to explore opportunities to expand and enhance their horse racing coverage, launching a five-program NTRA Super Saturdays series featuring the best horse racing in the nation once a month from June to October 2. Each NTRA Super Saturdays program included two hours of live horse racing, showcasing the country's top races of the day from multiple venues as they compete for a place in the renowned Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships October 30.
In addition, this year's ESPN's SportsCenter at the Travers, the live
on-site program covering the Travers Stakes from Saratoga Race Course in
Saratoga Springs, N.Y. was offered in high definition on ESPN HD.
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