Post sale prompts review of web options

Trinity Mirror has secured the sale of the Racing Post to FL Partners, an Irish private equity group fronted by the paper’s former editor, Alan Byrne, but for £170 million, below the original asking price.

Sales of Trinity Mirror’s regional newspapers in the Midlands and the south-east were abandoned, after receiving lower-than-expected bids, putting pressure on the group’s chief executive, Sly Bailey, after she had raised less than half of the £600 million target for the disposals programme which she had championed to the company’s shareholders.

At the Racing Post, Byrne was appointed chief executive and editor-in-chief of the paper with immediate effect. The principles of FL Partners, Peter Crowley and Neill Hughes, will be joint chairmen.

The paper’s sports editor, Bruce Millington, becomes editor and the editor, Chris Smith, becomes managing editor.

Byrne said he was confident of reversing the paper’s declining circulation and making more out of its website.

“It’s really going to be business as usual in the short to medium term, in that the paper does an excellent job and many people rely on it either for their hobby or their job,” Byrne said. “We’ll seek to build on what is already there, and over time I hope that we’ll expand the online offering.”

Byrne was news editor at the Racing Post from 1990 to late 1992 and then editor from January 1993 to January 2002. Crowley and Hughes cited Byrne’s appointment as proof of their long-term commitment to the paper.

The new owners take over just as a new paper gears up to hit the market. Racing Ahead Weekend is due to launch on October 20. Edited by Stephen Mullen, a former Sun racing journalist, the new weekly has vowed to avoid the fate of the Sportsman, which closed after seven months.

Byrne is unworried about the competition. “He’s moving on to our territory and we wish him the best of luck,” he said. “I hope he can expand the market, but it’s a tough market out there and I think he’ll find the punter is brilliantly served by the Racing Post Saturday edition already.

“The people who put their money into the Sportsman discovered the hard way – that there’s only really room for one paper.”

The Racing Post has suffered from falling sales, but it still has a circulation of more than 72,000. When Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, now emir of Dubai, set up the paper in 1986, he positioned it as a rival to the Sporting Life, owned by the Mirror Group. The sheikh licensed publication of his title to the Mirror Group in 1997. The group then folded the Sporting Life, leaving the Post as the monopoly provider of daily racing coverage.

Trinity Mirror made donations totalling £10 million to four charities connected to the horse racing industry, a condition of the sale required by Sheikh Mohammed, who retains the title’s trade mark.

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