Existing racegoers are the best racegoers
How racing needs to up its game to keep its customers
January greeted racing with the news that racecourse attendance in 2019 had fallen by 2.6%.
Reasons were put forward, not least the halt in racing due to equine flu. But the average attendance per meeting for 2019 was 3,898, compared to 3,924 in 2018, when the number went below 4,000 for the first time in five years. Total attendance was over 5.62 million, compared to 5.77m in 2018.
I’ve always been wary of the total figure as it is made up of repeat attendance – if I go racing three times a week, I’ll be counted three times.
The totalling up means that the number doesn’t exceed football attendance, but it does exceed the number who, say, go to rugby matches. But rugby fans have fewer opportunities to watch a game.
One of the immediate responses to a fall in the number of racegoers is the complaint that going racing is expensive.
Like all sports, the cost varies depending on the enclosure chosen and the day attended.
But is racing an expensive sport to attend?
Back to rugby. Two weeks ago I was at the Premiership game between Harlequins and London Irish.
The price of a ticket, for one of the best general admission seats at the stadium, was £50, a purchase made prior to match day. It would have been possible to have spent more on a hospitality package.
I was at the ground for around two-hours and the duration of the match was 80 minutes. The programme was £3.50 (admittedly an optional purchase), a pint of Guinness was £6.10 (including a £1 refund for the cup) and a plain hot dog was £5.
The crowd was 10,000. There were three other Premiership matches that day with an estimated total attendance of over 40,000. That’s 40,000 unique people who were at rugby’s top-flight games.
The cost of a ticket for the England v Ireland Six Nations game at nearby Twickenham a week later would have easily been three times as much. The crowd was in excess of 80,000.
This coming Saturday at Newbury, a Premier Enclosure ticket purchased in advance will cost £35. There was an early-bird price of £27. Admission is free for under 18s.
Food and drink will be similarly priced to the rugby, but with more options available than the Harlequin’s fast food outlets.
What is true is that run-of-the mill, midweek racing is expensive for what it is, but for a Saturday, racing is competitively priced. And, like rugby, there are premium prices for premium events.
That said, there is the extra outlay on betting – a spend very much at the discretion of the customer, but it need be no more than £14 if someone bets £2 a race. And it might even show a profit.
Where racing goes wrong
Where racing goes wrong with trying to grow attendance is its woeful approach to customer retention.
Your best customers, the ones which cost the least to attract through the gates, are your existing customers. But, it seems, only annual members are nurtured with discounted admission prices, free entry at other tracks through reciprocal arrangements, and regular customer communication.
But what of a new customer? They are expensive to acquire. They may well enjoy their day, but what’s done to get them back to a racecourse on another occasion? They might be aware of further fixtures at the track attended, but that’s assuming the dates suit.
Because racing is run on a course-by-course basis, even within the two major racecourse groups, there’s little cross-promotion for fixtures in the same region.
Cooperative promotion is something done, to a certain degree, in Scotland and Yorkshire and there’s been the recent Racing Post backed Go Racing in the North initiative. But it is limited.
And do racegoers leave a racecourse with a voucher code to redeem on another day? Is it possible to buy discounted bundled-tickets for a series of fixtures either at a single racecourse or transferrable to other tracks?
The Rewards for Racing scheme demonstrates that there is some degree of cooperation, as it involves Arena Racecourses, Jockey Club Racecourses and York.
But why don’t other tracks participate? Why don’t you see it advertised in racecards or on websites?
Why can’t fixtures across a region be listed in a racecard? Why isn’t there a map in racecards of the country’s tracks? Why don’t online customers receive email alerts for tracks in their area or of their choice, or for dates convenient to them such as during school holidays?
Racecourses, working together rather than as individual fiefdoms, pooling data, joint-promoting the sport and incentivising repeat business, might find that people go through the turnstiles more frequently.
It only takes a once-a-year racegoer to attend the races one more time to help turn round the decline in racecourse attendance.