Meet the Member: “The sheer scale of the sport has been really surprising – it’s the second biggest in the UK”
February 22, 2023
A few weeks ago our Content Manager Alex Brinton caught up with Arena Racing’s Matt Bennison. They spoke about why it is key to understand your audience, investing in data and the Racing League.
So to kick us off Matt, take us through your journey in sport?
My first foray into sport was when I was working at Hanbury Manor Hotel, selling golf days.
In terms of professional sport though, my first position was at the Kia Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club. I started off in non-match day sales and then moved to hospitality sales, then sponsorship. So, I covered the whole commercial department really.
After the Kia Oval I moved north of the river to Lord’s. When I was there I was a part of the Debentures team, which involved selling and managing debenture seats to companies and high-net-worth individuals that want a guaranteed ticket for every single match at Lord’s. These are particularly valuable for people who want to know they have a seat for the biggest games, a prime example being an Ashes Test match, or the now-legendary 2019 World Cup Final. I was also charged with finding new Commercial Partners for Lord’s.
In summer last year, I jumped sports and am now in horseracing, working for Arena Racing Company. I’m learning rapidly about furlongs, Polytrack and bumpers!
You’ve been at Arena Racing for around seven months now, what has surprised you about the business?
The sheer scale of the sport has been really surprising – it’s the second biggest spectator sport in the UK. At Arena, we have 16 racecourses and we race over 550 times a year. The thing with Horse Racing is that it is “always on”. That isn’t something I really understood before I started at the company. And it’s not just us at Arena – when you add The Jockey Club and then the independent courses as well, the volume of racing and the amount of spectators that the sport attracts has been really surprising for me.
As we touched on previously you had worked in cricket at Lord’s and the Oval, how is Horse Racing different?
Horses are always racing, whether in the UK or around the world. By contrast, cricket is much more of a seasonal game by its very nature. You tune into cricket at certain times of the year, whether that be a Lord’s Test in the summer or a T20 World Cup in Australia over our winter. But if you like racing, you’ve probably chosen the best sport in terms of being able to watch it whenever you want.
What challenges are facing you as a business at the moment?
I think commercially, akin to a lot of sports out there, it’s really getting to grips with understanding our audience. It’s being able to interpret the data that we’re sitting on. My job is to find new commercial Partners for the Group. I talk to marketing directors and their level of sophistication in terms of the knowledge of their key audience who they want to talk to is massive. They know exactly what they want. And I think sport in general is a little bit behind in that understanding.
Just at Arena Racing Company alone, we get 1.2 million people attending races every year. We will often have information on the ticket buyers but not always on their full group. The ability to know everyone who attends would be a really powerful tool in terms of marketing. It would help us find and speak to new partners, sell more tickets and hospitality and give us the ability to go and find new audiences. It’s firstly about collating the data, then we need to interpret it and make decisions based on it.
What are you doing to make Horse Racing an attractive proposition for sponsors?
Again I think this comes down to investing in data. The great thing about Horse Racing is that we have lots of different audiences. We have your hardcore racing fans and racehorse owners who visit racecourses on a very regular basis alongside also those who visit less regularly, to celebrate special occasions, or to enjoy a day out with friends, for example.
Each of these audience groups is attractive to a different type of sponsor, so we need to really get to grips with who is attending our events to be able to go out and sell our sponsorship a lot more strategically. Sponsorship has evolved from the old school approach of ‘have a bit of hospitality and an advertising board’ to a sophisticated understanding of our audiences which we think will strongly resonate with your brand. To be able to do that requires investment in the data.
Horse Racing is quite a traditional sport, do you face any challenges in terms of getting younger generations involved?
We’re really ramping up our efforts around attracting younger audiences with the creation of the Racing League. It is going into its third season this year. It’s a race series designed specifically to attract families and Gen-Z. It’s almost like a hybrid between The Hundred in cricket, and F1, in that you’ve got eight regional-based teams, so if you’re from London, you can support London and the South, if you’re from Cardiff, you can support Wales and the West.
As for the events themselves, we’re making them more family friendly with all sorts of entertainment in the gaps between racing, with the fixtures also taking place in the summer holidays, spread all over the country. And we’ve relocated some of them this year so that they take place in the regions where the teams are.
Looking forward, what are we going to see in the future for Arena Racing?
We’ve adjusted our ticket price strategy across the board for this year and, so far, early signs are promising. We’ve introduced a bundle at a lot of our racecourses, where you get admission, a snack, a drink and a racecard at a great value price. People are really feeling the pinch at the moment and we want to offer them a great day out. Also, we’re investing into our venues – racehorse owners and trainers are really important to us so we’re investing in their facilities and food and beverage experiences to make sure they have a really enjoyable time when they visit our racecourses.
And finally, any tips?
If I had one tip, it would be to go racing at your nearest racecourse. There is a huge variety of tracks around the country to chose from, all hosting a range of meetings from smaller mid week fixtures to huge marquee events. At either end of the spectrum you’re going to have a great day watching some brilliant sport!