The packed stands at Epsom and Royal Ascot are just the images the sport wants to shine around the world, but away from prestigious meetings, races are having difficulty attracting new spectators.
Unfortunately for the Sport of Kings, the crown appears to have lost some of its luster due to disappointing spectators at the York and Chester festivals in May, with high-quality racing going on for several days.
At Chester, the four-day attendance was 35,000, down 35% from the 53,500 who attended the corresponding match in 2019.
Regular midweek meetings are also suffering as racing, like other sports and entertainment venues, struggle to attract attention and the public become increasingly wary of spending money due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Rod Street, CEO of Great British Racing (GBR), which is the sport’s central promotion and marketing body tasked with increasing participation and participation in horse racing, told AFP the decline in attendance was a concern.
“The cost of living crisis is definitely a factor,” he said.
“Furthermore, after two years of long lockdown periods (due to Covid-19), all sports, leisure and entertainment offerings are competing at the same time.
“We also believe that after two years, people got rid of this habit.
“As always, a trend is rarely influenced by one factor, but rather by several.”
Street stated earlier in the year in a GBR manifesto that they would be targeting the 25-34 age group, though he admits it’s not easy to make a convincing argument to convince them to race.
“This is a serious challenge,” he said.
“Our consumer research tells us that the 25-34 year old market shows the best opportunity for growth as this demographic consistently expresses a desire to consider racing.
“Consideration is the stage that follows awareness and precedes purchase, so this understanding is important.
“We will target the broader ethnic groups in this age group that represent society better, making our outreach as wide as possible.”
William Woodhams, CEO of bookmaker Fitzdares, says there is more to be done to make racing more attractive to the public.
“At the moment it seems dull,” he told AFP.
“Apart from key meetings, we don’t seem to be getting the right cross section of the public.
“I do think the food and drink offerings are pretty terrible and trying out with groups etc. is really not going well.
“Sport is enough fun and we just need to make it better.”
– “Excitement and drama” –
Woodhams, drawing on his six-year experience at luxury goods company LVMH, doesn’t think racetracks offer value for money.
“For the very best experience, you pay more than the odds, and there should be more value at the entry level,” he said.
“People under 30 have to pay £20 ($24) for entry, a free bet and a drink.”
Entry fees vary – the vast majority of racetracks offer free entry for children under 18 – but the extra costs are piling up quickly.
Goodwood, for example, costs £12-26, but a bottle of water costs £2.50, the cheapest pint is £6 and a hamburger is £9, as quoted by The Racing Post.
Goodwood, York, Ascot and other famous racetracks push the boat out to greet spectators, but this is not the case for other racetracks, according to Woodhams and Qatar Racing manager David Redvers.
“Some racetracks do a good job, but many smaller racetracks are overemphasizing the fact that they make most of their income from media rights,” Redvers said.
“It’s really frustrating for them to have crowds and they’d rather have fewer loafers on the ground and not worry about infrastructure and costs and get their money through TV rights.”
The Jockey Club, which owns 15 racetracks including Aintree and Cheltenham and installs 340 racing fixtures annually, does not fit into this category as they spend £7m a year on marketing to attract spectators.
Indeed, in the first four months of 2022, paid attendance at their racetracks increased by three percent compared to the same period before the pandemic (2019).
For Street and Woodhams, the future of racing is not bleak – for the latter it is “100% the most prestigious sport.”
“Difficult, but potentially rewarding,” Street of the Future says.
“It’s unrealistic to think that everyone who walks through the gate will become a more active fan, but the more we do to bring people closer to the excitement and drama of this sport and its amazing characters, the more likely we are to develop more fans.”
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