Does Racing win its share of the wagering market?
A recent research document published by Ladbrokes Coral in the UK marked out the popularity of Jump racing in betting interest compared to its more illustrious Flat cousin. The report should get racing authorities both in Britain and further afield thinking about how to make betting on the sport more popular.
The Randox Grand National still rules the roost among British gamblers, but the 28 races that comprise this week's Cheltenham Festival dominate the top 35 most wagered races in the UK. Aside from the Derby in third place, the next nearest rival was the Oaks in 29th place. No major Flat handicap made the top 40 at all.
Given the international nature of top flight Flat racing nowadays, the UK picture inevitably may not tell the whole story, as world pools have become of increasing interest to racecourses broadcasting their pictures to a worldwide viewing and wagering audience. But the paucity of Flat events cutting it among the wider public should set some alarm bells ringing given that Jump racing is by its very nature a parochial sport, limited to a few countries in northern Europe. It can hardly expect to appeal to the same international audience as Flat racing.
Coral's David Stevens was quoted in the sport's national daily, the Racing Post, "The turnover figures for last year prove beyond doubt that the Cheltenham Festival is the biggest, most important week of the year for bookmakers and their customers, and well deserving of the attention on it for months leading up to it."
Yet the recent spate of small fields in the graded races at the Festival has not helped horseracing to retain its audience of bettors. Eroded by other sports, most notably football, the sport is failing to retain market share, even whilst events like Royal Ascot and the Breeders' Cup should allow it to reach new audiences. It seems as if young people love attending the races, but largely for their social appeal, rather than as a betting medium. Ante-post betting on the Festival has been reducing in scale, not growing as one might expect.
If this trend is being replicated across other racing jurisdictions, then the sport should work together to create new and imaginative ways of growing its remote audience once again. Low entry bets for big prizes have long beena discussion point in virtually every racing jurisdiction, but to date, none has found a route to making them stick.
At the recent Asian Racing Conference in Melbourne last month, leaders of the sport across the world, and in particular the developed racing nations of the Pacific basin, drew on the experience of key experts to discover more about the impact of technology innovation, the integration of wagering marketing and approaches to customer development and retention.
But this is far from a straightforward exercise. Speaking to a racecourse in the south-western USA this month, it transpired that the racecourse was for sale as off-track betting handle simply wasn't delivering the right return on capital deployed. Whilst anecdotal, this is no more than a continuation of the theme that racing is not capturing the imagination of the wider public looking for a flutter on more than a few occasions each year, irrespective of where they are.
I have no answers here, but given the sport is so heavily reliant upon betting interest, it strikes me the sport's leaders internationally need to collaborate , or heady days like the Melbourne Cup or Cheltenham Festival will fade to lesser versions of their glory days.