It is a frequent refrain these days that racing’s audience is diminishing and we must make changes to arrest this decline. We also hear that the pool of people who are true followers of racing has an increasing age demographic and we therefore have to make the sport appeal to a younger audience.
These days, marketing people frequently talk about the importance of the grey pound. Maybe this is where racing should direct most of its efforts
Certainly, nobody should discourage efforts to change horseracing to give it a wider appeal, or to make it appeal more to younger people. It is all part of the BHA’s strategy for growth and, without it, there is indeed a real danger that our sport will stagnate.
It is worth reminding ourselves, however, just what horseracing does have going for it in terms of driving its day-to-day audience.
How many entities in British life, for instance, have a daily newspaper devoted to their activities in the way racing has with the Racing Post? How many sports are given anything like the airtime of a terrestrial TV channel that racing currently enjoys with ITV? Who would not give their right arm to have not one, but two highly-professional digital TV channels projecting live pictures and information almost 365 days a year? And, then, what about the near-10,000 betting shops in Britain and Ireland that continue to attract many of the regular horseracing punters?
It has to be said that much of this activity rides on the back of people who bet on horses, but there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s where the big numbers of racing fans come from and where we get the most obvious entry-point for those taking an interest in the sport. Today’s casual punter is often tomorrow’s died-in-the-wool racing enthusiast.
All of this shows how careful we have to be in changing any of the fundamentals of British horseracing. How we must always remain conscious of the existing audience when trying to attract the new one.
In its purest form the study of horseracing is an intellectual exercise. Few people will ever get to the levels of somebody like James Willoughby, in his discourse on sectional times, but it is, I feel, very important that racing continues to offer that level of cerebral challenge to those who aspire to it.
Equally, we must always consider the regular racegoers on the days when racecourses put on pop concerts or on those racedays in high summer when, for some of those in attendance, the object of the exercise seems to be to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible while paying scant regard to the racing.
You can’t blame racecourses for wanting to maximise their attendance and income, while racing must, of course, encourage people who go racing very occasionally to attend more frequently. But most of us have occasionally seen situations where behaviour on the racecourse is repugnant and even intimidating.
There will always be a batch of young people to whom racing is a reasonably easy sell. Clearly, those who have grown up around horses and those who have ridden horses from a young age are likely to be more receptive than a kid who views life from an inner-city. But this is where the big numbers are and this is the area that provides the biggest challenge to racing’s marketing efforts.
While trying to sell racing to the young is a laudable and important objective, there is perhaps something about the nature of horseracing where interest and understanding of the activity deepens as people get older.
Racing may not score highly in terms of instant gratification when measured against computer games – or even the much-maligned gaming machines in betting shops – but the many challenges it throws up in trying to find a winner is much more attuned to the minds of people of a certain age.
These days, marketing people frequently talk about the importance of the grey pound. Maybe this is where racing should direct most of its efforts, too.