Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Racing UK Ltd
Reference:  EWCA Civ 999
Court: Court of Appeal (Civ)
Judge: Buxton LJ, Wall LJ, Sir Martin Nourse
Date of judgment: 20 Jul 2005
Summary: Sports law - TV rights contract - Agency - Authority - Media & entertainment
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Doncaster local authority appealed against the decision of the trial judge, Tugendhat J., that a racecourse management company had ostensible authority to agree a sale of broadcasting rights which were binding on the local authority as the owner of the racecourse. The judge had held that the racecourse management company had entered into the rights agreement on the authority of the local authority who were, accordingly, bound by it. The factual matrix surrounding the agreement supported such a view. The local authority argued that the evidence indicated that the TV rights company had intended to contract with the racecourse management company as principal not agent.
Whether the trial judge erred in concluding that the local authority had held out the racecourse management company (and its chief executive) as having the authority to enter into agreements on its behalf.
Dismissing the appeal,
1. It was well-known in racing that the local authority owned the racecourse. The chief executive of the racecourse management company was widely known to be the public face of Doncaster racecourse and those involved in the disputed agreement were worldly in the affairs of racing and had previous experience of Doncaster racecourse.
2. The racecourse management company’s nomination had been lifted from an earlier media rights agreement that was widely assumed to have been concluded on behalf of the council.
3. The tv rights company had intended to contract with the racecourse management, believing, albeit wrongly, that it had authority to dispose of the rights as principal.
Ostensible authority is essentially a question of fact, which an appeal court will be slower to overturn. This case goes to show, however, that representations of authority can be quite general – there was no communication from the local authority to the tv rights company. Consideration may be given, in such instances, to obtaining confirmation by principals.