When ITV were announced as the new terrestrial home for British horse racing at the start of 2016, it certainly came as a shock.
In June of that year, one big announcement caught the eye. Ed Chamberlin was to front ITV’s racing coverage after 16 years working for Sky Sports where he presented Super Sunday and Monday Night Football.
It was an intriguing move at the time but after a BAFTA and a Sports Journalist Association award (SJA), it seems as though the move has paid off.
Despite the uncertainty in racing, ITV will still be the home of free-to-air racing come the new year after the announcement in the summer they had signed a new deal to cover racing up to 2023.
However, the deal took a long time to get over the line and Chamberlin highlighted the importance of having horse racing on ITV.
“That platform (ITV) is so important for the future of the sport, whether that was us (ITV) or whether racing wanted to go elsewhere, it had to stay on terrestrial television. I am delighted, one that it stayed on terrestrial television for more than 90 days and two it stayed on ITV so we can continue what we done for nearly four years now.”
ITV’s return to racing
Horse racing was last broadcast on ITV in 1985. Their foray back into racing came at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, 2017, where a monsoon greeted the arrival of Chamberlin and his team.
Chamberlin said that was a low point for him, but he maintains ITV’s coverage has improved since then, especially following some memorable performances from a handful of talented horses:
“I’m always looking for hooks to get new viewers in and there’s no better hook than a popular racehorse, a horse that resonates beyond the sport really and we’ve had a handful of them. We’ve had Enable, Battash, Stradivarius and Tiger Roll.”
He added that if Tiger Roll were to win his third Grand National next spring, it would be the biggest racing sports story for decades. This is despite Tiger Roll’s form of late being disappointing after being pulled up at Cheltenham last time out.
“He [Tiger Roll] resonates with young and old and for the sport of horse racing just to have him at Aintree, hopefully with a crowd, at the beginning of April would just be the best thing for the sport.”
And with the announcement of crowds returning to sport events, it surely bodes well for Tiger Roll and Aintree after the race cancelled this year due to Covid. The National was sorely missed this year and hugely damaging in economic terms for the city of Liverpool and the Jockey Club.
However, with the news announced this week it means things are looking up especially for the Cheltenham Festival and the Tingle Creek taking place next weekend at Sandown Park, with a decision to made whether London is in tier one or two.
The Grand National
In 2017, Chamberlin became the eighth person to present terrestrial coverage of the great race, joining a list that included David Coleman, Clare Balding and his personal hero, Des Lynam.
He spoke of his honour presenting ITV’s national coverage saying:
“On a personal level, to be able to present the Grand National, to be the eighth person to present the Grand National on terrestrial television, the race that got me into the sport, if my grandfather was still alive he would be pretty proud, his the guy that got me into racing.”
ITV’s 2017 National coverage certainly impressed; just a year later, they won the BAFTA in Sports Television coverage for the event.
“It was the best moment in my twenty plus years in television, ” he said.
ITV returned to Aintree in 2018, with their intro to the coverage being narrated by the late, great Hugh Mcllvanney.
Chamberlin believes the intro was brilliant television, and like many in the industry, he sees Mcllavenny as one of the best ever sportswriters.
“[He was] an absolute genius of a man- the doyen of sports writing.”
He paid tribute to Mcllavenny when he won the SJA for best presenter, alongside co-presenter Francesca Cumani, who he said is a joy to work with.
“It’s a combination that I enjoy and hopefully people at home enjoy what we do as well” he added of Cumani.
ITV’s coverage during Covid
Two days before the first lockdown, ITV broadcast a card from Thurles in Ireland. They didn’t return until the first week of June when the government deemed it safe for a return to sport.
ITV returned but there were difficult challenges. The team initially had to broadcast at home, then since Royal Ascot, everything has been behind closed doors.
Chamberlin said that broadcasting at empty racecourses is flat and somewhat demoralising, but he knows that showing live sport helps to improve people’s moods at home.
“If we can put some smiles on people’s faces then we’ve got a job to do. Sport can help the health of the nation.
“Sport can give people a boost, give people an escape. It’s just a really nice escape for a couple of hours and [we] hope it lifts people’s spirit a bit.”
On setting up a new business
Chamberlin worried that time was running out on securing a new deal for ITV. So, during lockdown, he set up a new company called Chamberlin Sports.
Chamberlin Sports offers media training for the next generation of broadcasters, teaching them interview techniques and communication skills.
Chamberlin recruited the help of Ex- Grand National winning jockey Richard Dunwoody to create the website and public relations specialist Liz Ampairee to build the foundations of the company. Ampairee is the company’s director.
“The main driving force is to help others who want to get into the media, who want to host. If I can help them in terms of their delivery and how to deal with an audience, how to deal with a client whatever might be, [that would be great].
“We’ve got a good team onboard, particularly Richard Hoiles, who’s just fond of information and my absolute right-hand man on ITV, what a signing he’s been for ITV.
“Then the old sage, the old maestro Brough Scott.He is an absolute legend, he’s got an absolute wealth of experience and knowledge to pass on. Chamberlin Sports is the vehicle to be able to do that and hopefully help others.”
With a new company set up and a new deal for ITV, Chamberlin knows that younger broadcasters have a bright future ahead of them.
Chamberlin Sports offers media training for individuals that want to progress in the media specialising in Interview techniques and Communications training. For more information find out at https://chamberlinsports.com