Runners and Riders at the start for the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase won by BENSALEM in front of a packed enclosures.

18th September 2013

Racing: a sport, a day out, something to bet on?

As you're reading this, you most likely know horseracing is Britain’s second biggest spectator sport with attendances of around 6 million a year. But do you see racing as a sport, something to bet on, a day out or all of the above (and why does that matter)?

Pleasingly, we know the majority of people have a good experience at our 15 courses nationwide (we’ve invested the princely sum of £155m in ten years in new and upgraded facilities so we were hoping that's the case!). We also know about 20% of our racegoers class themselves as knowledgeable racing fans following racing as a sport, while the other 80% go racing primarily in search of a great day out and/or a casual flutter. I believe we have a big opportunity to do more to encourage, excite and educate people about racing as an incredible sport, not just a day out…

Why does that matter?

Today the 'average racegoer', attending for a day out, goes racing once a year; like you would for many leisure experiences (I don’t go to Alton Towers several times a year for example!). In comparison, (dependent on the money you have in your pocket) the average passionate racing fan goes often, watches on Channel 4, is often interested in branded products and services related to the sport, which can include subscriptions to satellite channels like Racing UK, and is more likely to bet more frequently. The fan really is at the heart of the long-term health of the sport.

How can more people enjoy racing as a sport (and ultimately become fans)?

All the evidence tells us the answer to that equation is about increasing people's understanding of racing as a sport – knowing what a winner looks like in the parade ring, what constitutes a good ride, what to ‘do’ when you’re at the races, what the language means and, soon enough, how winners are bred, trained and looked after. Feeling like you know what you’re doing, what you’re looking for and being able to have an opinion is the difference between someone enjoying the overall experience and atmosphere of the races as an annual day out versus never wanting to miss the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Dawn Approach, Al Kazeem or Bobs Worth gracing the Turf.

British racing could spend a lot of resource trying to reach the man on the street with no existing interest in the sport. We don't have the promotional budgets of Sainsbury's or Coca-Cola to do that in a meaningful and sustainable way but, even if we did, it's unlikely racing can provide those with no interest with a strong enough 'reason to care' to get the time of day in return. You can create a lot of positive noise, but have comparatively little impact. Unlike the brands I've mentioned, we’re not selling consumer goods that seem never more than a metre away.

Far more effective, in my opinion, is to focus on doing more with (and for) the millions of people who go racing each year and the millions who tune into Channel 4. That's because at those moments they come armed with a curiosity (sometimes even a thirst!) to find out more. It might be the only time they have a reason to care about racing, but it's there, because who doesn't want to know what's going on around them, what they're 'supposed' to be doing and the buzz of picking out a winner in the process – especially if it's no longer a fluke?!

A call to arms: racing, explained...

Racing must work with our passionate fans to encourage them to promote racing to friends, family and colleagues. Fans deserve a huge amount of respect; they are our sport’s greatest advocates and have the knowledge to help those around them to quickly enjoy racing as a sport. That’s how I learnt about racing, from my Dad taking me first to Warwick and sometimes to Stratford in the school holidays, while growing up in the Midlands. Ours is not a sport you can pick up and kick around in your street growing up or declare your allegiance to a team to follow for a lifetime.

I'm Scott Bowers and I’m responsible for communications at The Jockey Club, whether that's through social channels, online, broadcast, press, internally, political communications and so on. Armed with the insights I've mentioned in this post, we intend to do more within The Jockey Club and working with stakeholders in the racing and betting industries to demystify our sport for as many people as possible. That will not involve dumbing the sport down; it will mean doing our best to explain racing better and make it easier to understand, using all the tools at our disposal.

I look forward to sharing our ideas and planned activities here on The Going, and of course listening to and acting on your feedback.

Looking ahead

If more people understand and enjoy racing as a sport, everyone wins; you get a better experience and more enjoyment, more people become fans and, pretty soon, many more are out there spreading the word as advocates and bringing along the next generation. It’s a virtuous circle. More people go racing more often... Broadcasters have more people tuning in... More press and media bought and consumed... People feel more informed about racing to have a bet, so betting turnover grows... More brands follow in the footsteps of the likes of Crabbie's and Investec and want to associate with a growing and relevant sport...

There is no silver-bullet solution to overnight success and we mustn’t preach to people or ram racing down anyone’s throat. But I'm delighted to say this isn't the start; the journey has already begun. Today one in five people now say they're interested in our sport. Just three years ago, this was one in ten. That's not to say there are millions more racing 'fans' in this country in 2013 than in 2010, but it does suggest more people are open to the idea of following the sport as a result of long-term efforts to promote racing in Britain.

An incredible sport. A great day out. Now you’re talking.