Go racing on any UK course these days, particularly on Saturdays, and you’ll be struck by the remarkable number of younger people who are there, enjoying themselves. Coral-Eclipse Day at Sandown this Saturday will provide the perfect example.
By younger people, I mean the 18-30 age group so favoured by the marketeers and brand-pushers. All taking advantage of the fact that racing is firmly established as one of the country’s favourite social days out, but also many taking a keen interest in the racing and a healthy interest in betting which, of course, helps to sustain the sport.
It is concrete evidence, along with ever-rising attendances and enormous appetite via its media and social-media platforms, that ongoing attempts to broaden racing’s appeal are working.
The sport is constantly grappling with how best to attract the next generation. For a time, it tried to kid us that the the advent of music concerts after meetings would do the trick. In fact, all they have achieved is healthy profits for the tracks. Most of those who go along to see the likes of Olly Murs, Jess Glynne, Little Mix, Madness and Texas are not remotely motivated in the horses. It beggars belief that any sport should attempt to popularise itself via sideshows or gimmicks that bear no relation to the main event.
The racing itself is, of course, the main reason most of us get hooked. For me, as a young sprog, it was watching, agog, the Grand National on TV, and my late dad taking me on the bus to Southwell for its Easter Jumps meetings.
Once hooked, most of us want to learn more, and such is the strength in depth of the sport, complete with its multiple strands, that you never stop learning. The constant need to upgrade your knowledge, largely in the search of winners, is one of racing’s key appeals. This isn’t a sport that can be delivered, lock, stock and barrel, by its administrators and left on a plate for us to eat. The onus is on those interested to dig and delve, enquire and investigate, research and revise.
The rewards for our efforts can be tangible. I love racing’s complexities, its rich traditions, its unique set of rules and language and, most of all, the escapism it provides from the real world. Suggestions that we dumb it down, or simplify it, to tempt the uninitiated fill me with horror.
Nevertheless, the challenge does remain to find that initial hook on which the next generation can hang their caps. And no longer is it enough to target the 18-30s. What about the under-18s and those who might not have a dad keen on a flutter or might be mystified by the magnetism of the Grand National?
With the summer holidays almost upon us, Great British Racing (GBR), the sport’s promotional body, is launching its biggest ever national under-18s campaign to encourage more families to take advantage of free entry for children and young people at racecourses across the country. It’s called the StirrUp Summer Campaign, and you can find out more by heading to www.stirrupsummer.com
Rod Street, chief executive of GBR, said, “Racing is a box-office hit of colour and excitement and is such a brilliant day out for all the family. With accompanied under-18s admitted for free, the summer holidays are a great time to head to your local track.
“Great Britain is home to some of the world’s finest racing and it is one of the few sports where under-18s can go for free, making it a great-value day out too. As well as the amazing sporting action and the chance to see some incredible horses competing up close, many courses provide additional family activities at no extra cost, meaning there is loads to keep everyone entertained.
“With six weeks of the summer holidays stretching out ahead of us, and parents scratching their heads on how to entertain their kids, a day at the races is a brilliant option with the chance for families to spend some time together and get outdoors.
“The fact that under-18s go free to the vast majority of fixtures is something that, as a sport, we should be proud of, and we are very excited to be launching our StirrUpSummer campaign to encourage more young people and their families to head to the races.”
As part of the campaign, GBR has teamed up with BBC Radio 2 DJ,Sara Cox, an avid racing fan who has ridden in several charity races and has had a lifelong love of horses.
Sara said, “Racing is such a brilliant day out. There is so much do -– from seeing the amazing horses in the paddock before the race to watching them thunder past you and enjoying all the other activities around the course. If you’ve never been before, then I’d definitely encourage you to give it a go this summer.”
Gregg Taylor, head of marketing at GBR, said, “We wanted to create a website that was relevant to the under-18 audience we are targeting.
“So much of what is on it looks at racing from their perspective and how they interact with stuff in their day-to-day lives. So there is the chance to find out which famous horse they would be, some of racing’s funniest names, emoji quizzes and, of course, some hilarious videos, including Sara Cox electrocuting some jockeys and the stars of the sport being grilled, Paxman-esque, by young people themselves.
“The campaign is supported by digital ads, which proved a highly effective way of reaching our audiences when we ran a smaller-scale campaign last year.”
There are more than 200 racing fixtures up and down the country over the school holidays, with under-18s admitted free to the vast majority when accompanied by a paying adult. Among these are 58 special family days with additional activities put on for families and young people, including pony rides, fairground attractions, bouncy castles and face painting.
Research by sports marketing agency Two Circles in 2015 showed that 86% of those interviewed were unaware that under-18s were admitted free to most race meetings throughout the year, with more than a third saying that they would be more likely to attend had they been aware.