Horse racing’s lofty status as one of the best and most popular days out in British sport has been confirmed by the latest figures covering attendances and enjoyment levels.
The thrilling atmosphere of a day at the races and a higher level of customer satisfaction than sport in general has helped racing record its third largest annual aggregate-attendance figure in the past ten years.
More than 5.98 million people went racing in 2016 and, according to research conducted by sports marketing experts Two Circles, the raceday experience scored an impressive 8.6 marks out of 10. The average for all other sports combined, including major spectator attractions such cricket, football and rugby, was 8.2.
The research, carried out through a series of raceday customer surveys, considered ten aspects of the experience and benchmarked racing against other sports. These aspects were atmosphere, stewarding, view, seating, speed of queues, information, toilets, access into the venue, food and drink and betting. Racing outperformed the sporting average in eight of the ten categories, with its score for atmosphere as high as 8.6, compared to 8.2 for other sports. Only in the areas of view and seating did it fall below other sports.
Horse racing also regained its place as the second best attended sport in Britain in 2016, having slipped to third the previous year behind rugby, largely because Britain hosted the Rugby World Cup. Football remains the best attended sport.
Racing’s exact figure for 2016 was a massive 5,987,167, even though it had to face competition for attention from the Olympic Games and the European football championships and even though it was the only year in the last decade not to feature centrally promoted campaigns for free admission. The figure was also achieved despite 56 abandonments, compared to only 37 in 2015.
The average attendance per meeting throughout the year was 4,175. There were a total of 1,434 fixtures, with the average attendance for Flat meetings being 4,228 and for Jumps meetings 4,081.
Meanwhile three of racing’s flagship occasions, Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival and the Epsom Derby Festival, were among the top ten attended UK sporting events of 2016.
The 2016 attendances were boosted by record crowds of 204,106 over the Christmas period between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day when they were up 13.8% on the same period the previous year.
July was a particularly popular month with attendances up 9% and just short of one million (993,517 compared to 911,262 in 2015) as the sun shone on the Coral-Eclipse weekend at Sandown Park, Newmarket’s Moët & Chandon July Festival and the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Of the various racecourses up and down the country, Warwick produced the biggest like-for-like percentage-increase in attendances with 28% growth from 32,379 to 41,604. Cartmel was not far behind with crowds growing 21% from 73,300 to 88,744, while Fontwell Park grew crowd figures by 18% from 52,462 to 61,876.
Racing bigwigs now feel the sport is handily placed, thanks to ever-evolving research and data, to continue its popularity and growth.
Stephen Atkin, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, which oversees all 59 of Britain’s tracks, said: “It is very pleasing to see racing return to the second best attended sport in Britain against a backdrop of unfavourably wet weather during the first quarter and the competition of the Rio Olympic Games and Euro 2016.
“The five-year growth trajectory highlights that a day out at the races continues to increase in popularity. As part of the Insight=Growth programme, we have the broadest data warehouse of attendees in any sport. Through intelligent use of this data, racecourses can now make targeted improvements to the raceday experience and grow attendances by attracting those who are aware of racing but have not previously considered attending.”
Mr Atkin’s views were echoed by Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, the sport’s official marketing and promotional body. He said: “The research reinforces the fact that racing is a brilliant day out that caters and appeals to a wide range of people and is backed up by very encouraging 2016 attendance figures.
“We know from the work undertaken by Two Circles that, in particular, racing has a higher percentage of female fans (39%) against the all-sport average of 20% and this insight, together with the fact that racing is one of the best value days out for families, will inform our work in promoting racing to a very broad audience in 2017.”