Booming horse-racing on course for record attendance figures

CROWD PLEASER -- huge crowds at Aintree's Grand National meeting in April helped to boost racing's attendance figures for the first half of the year (PHOTO BY: Peter Byrne/PA Wire).
CROWD PLEASER -- huge crowds at Aintree's Grand National meeting in April helped to boost racing's attendance figures for the first half of the year (PHOTO BY: Peter Byrne/PA Wire).

With big summer meetings at Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York just around the corner, the booming sport of horse racing is on course to break its record for attendances in a calendar year.

The Racecourse Association (RCA) has announced a significant increase in Britain’s crowd figures for the first six months of 2015.

The overall figure of 2,987,103 is higher even than the amount reached over the same period in 2011, which was the best-ever year for attendances in the sport.

It also shows a rise of almost 300,000 on the same period in 2014, which represents an increase of 10%. The average number of racegoers at each fixture sits at 4,184, which is an 8% increase on 2014 and higher even than the record figures of 2011.

The figures were helped by interest stimulated among the public by the ‘retirement tour’ of champion Jumps jockey Tony ‘AP’ McCoy, plus bumper crowds at the big spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree, and then at the early Flat-season spectaculars hosted by Royal Ascot, Epsom and Newmarket.

But they also prove that racing has finally emerged from the economic downturn that afflicted so many businesses connected to the sport. Now it can look forward to the future with confidence, with the revamped two-day King George Weekend at Ascot the next port of call on the schedule. That is followed by Glorious Goodwood, which has been re-branded as the Qatar Goodwood Festival, boosted by a massive injection of prize money by Qatar that now stands at £4.5 millon, and then York’s ever-popular four-day Ebor Festival in mid-August.

Stephen Atkin, chief executive of the RCA, the trade body that represents 58 of Britain’s racecourses, said: ‘We are delighted to see such a strong performance in terms of attendances so far for this year.

“There are, of course, a number of factors that impact on racecourse attendances, and it is pleasing to see that they seem to have come together in the first half of this year.

‘Whilst factors beyond our control, mainly the weather, play a significant role in achieving these numbers, the racecourse and central sales and marketing teams, supported by the national promotion of the sport by the Great British Racing organisation, must be congratulated on their hard work to capitalise on the opportunities that are offered to sell our sport.

‘Evidence would suggest that hospitality sales at racecourses are increasing, along with general economic growth of the country, and we have seen a series of record attendances at our major meetings in the first half of 2015.

“However, across the board, racing offers not just one of the best value days out in sport, but also an assurance of quality across Britain’s racecourses as evidenced through the RCA’s work with VisitEngland and Deloitte.’

‘We believe that figures like this indicate that the public’s general interest in going racing is increasing. The racecourses will look to continue their hard work for the second half of the year, in which we are confident, given the right conditions, we will be able to beat the record total of attendances that was achieved in 2011.’

Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, the central marketing and promotions body of British racing, said: ‘These are great figures for racing and demonstrate the broad appeal of our sport.

“Racing has something for everyone, whether it’s the horses, the competition on track, the social scene or the betting opportunities, and it is great to see it perform so well in a competitive leisure market.’