British racing targets younger following as revenues soar

Horses compete at the 2018 Grand National at Aintree

London (AFP) – Horse racing chiefs must find ways to capture the next generation of racegoers even as Britain’s Jockey Club celebrates record financial results, chief executive Simon Bazalgette said on Monday.

The 56-year-old Englishman — who has been described as the “most powerful man in racing” — was speaking after the club posted record turnover for 2017, breaching the £200 million ($275 million) mark for the first time.

British horseracing’s leading commercial group — whose racecourses feature blue-riband events such as the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National as well as the Epsom Derby — welcomed 1.9 million people to its 334 racing fixtures in 2017.

The club, which reinvests all profits back into the sport, said it had nearly doubled its turnover since 2008.

Bazalgette welcomed a “ninth successive year of commercial growth”, saying the club was working hard to engage more people in the sport.

“Certainly for big race days there is a younger audience and racing has the best gender balance — 45 percent of those buying tickets for those days are women,” Bazalgette told AFP.

“Where racing is very successful with the young is they enjoy the theatre element, there is great food and drink and excitement.

“Racing excels there but what we need to do is convert them to be racing fans, they are coming for a great day out with family and friends.”

Concerts after a day’s racing — the club is a major promoter in Britain — have played a big role in attracting younger spectators and courses also encourage racegoers to share pictures and comments on big screens at the venues via social media

But Bazalgette admits one major stumbling block is the terminology. What is a handicap? How long is a furlong?

Efforts are being made to demystify the sport.

“We do that with an app called ‘Racing Explained’ for basics and there is also a lot in the race card and on the screens explaining the jargon,” said Bazalgette.

“Most of our people booking online we send emails explaining to them to make it as easy as possible.”

Bazalgette also said the image of racing being only for the wealthy is misplaced, with free tickets or major discounts for younger racegoers and ticket prices at £15 to £20 on most days for a whole day’s action, which compares well with other sports such as football.

“If you look at the demographics there is a mix more than many other sports from top to bottom of society,” he said.