Racing defies the odds with increased attendances

November 5, 2010

Figures released yesterday will bring cheer to the UK Horse Racing industry as they show a significant 3.6% increase in racecourse attendances to date in 2010, sale compared with 2009. The figures are made all the more impressive by the fact that a number of high profile fixtures were lost in January due to the icy weather. Despite the drop in race meetings, the average daily attendance has grown from 4,351 to 4,513 year on year.

These figures will be particularly welcomed by the industry in the current economic climate when other major sports continue to struggle with declining gate receipts. The increase in attendances has been consistent over the past nine months but April (+7.3%) and July (+10.1%) were particularly strong.

Another feature of the figures is the growing success of racing’s main showcase meetings, the Cheltenham Festival, the Aintree John Smith’s Grand National, the Ivestec Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, York Ebor Festival and the Doncaster Ladbrokes St Leger Festival. At each of these major events, 2010 crowd numbers exceeded the previous year’s attendances.

However, racing’s success story hasn’t just been achieved around the Festival meetings. Three racecourses, York, Newbury and Chester, have reported record numbers of visitors attending Saturday fixtures during the summer. In addition, a Yorkshire Summer Racing Festival involving nine courses in the county attracted a massive combined crowd of 101,705. This is in addition to strong performances by many other racecourses, such as Thirsk, who saw attendances up 4.2% against 2009 and Carlisle where the Summer Family Festival in July saw 11,000 people flocking to the course, an increase of 3,000 on their previous best.

Along with competitive racing, many courses have been taking the opportunity in 2010 to broaden the entertainment on offer, hosting concerts and themed days to draw in the crowds. In August, a concert by the Irish boy band Westlife sold out Newbury Racecourse to cap an excellent day’s racing.

Earlier, in April, the industry, under its Racing for Change banner, initiated the first ever ‘week of free racing’ with nine courses, including Ascot and Goodwood, allowing the public in at no cost. This promotion proved highly successful, attracting an extra 40,000 customers through the gates (compared to the previous year’s attendances). Research showed that over 60% of these racegoers were new to the sport.

Many of the 60 courses in Great Britain have also been actively marketing their fixtures to a broader audience and working hard to make sure that visitors have a memorable leisure experience. The Racing for Change project places particular emphasis on demystifying the sport for novice racegoers and promoting the human and equine stars more effectively, both at the tracks and through the media.

Stephen Atkin, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association commented, “This is a fantastic performance by British racecourses given the financial strain that many people have found themselves in recently and the fact that we are in a World Cup year. It goes to prove that racing remains a highly popular and attractive day out, and that horseracing offers an exciting and innovative experience for all the family.”