Blog inspiration sometimes comes in a flash, this week’s is from two sources, the first an overheard train conversation which I’ll come onto later.
The second was award-winning journalist Chris Cook’s summing up of how racing is promoting its much vaunted and small racecourse bashing ‘Premierisation’ which he rather eloquently branded ‘Half-Arsed’. I’ve stolen it for this bit of work Chris, I hope you don’t mind.
The Racing Post video in which he said popped up on Twitter as I was making my way back to Devon from recording #BettingPeople interviews. As I boarded the train from Newmarket ‘station’, it’s just a platform now, there seems no need for the rather grand old station that’s still standing but not used for its original purpose.
As I settled down for the first leg of the trip, I heard an American voice asking if horseracing was still big in the UK. The reply from his companion was ‘Not with the general public’ before explaining that some people do still go.
‘Not with the general public’. That was a bit of a stinging observation, but it rings true, doesn’t it? Does racing actually put any effort into attracting interest from the ‘General Public’? We live in a bubble, because horseracing is a huge part of our lives, we just assume that everyone knows about it.
But they don’t. If I’m asked what I do for a living, I don’t reply ‘steal one’ as some have suggested I do, but that I work in the horseracing industry trying to promote it. Still now, the most common reply is the mention of ‘that bloke with the sideburns’ and some random gesticulation. We dearly miss Big Mac.
Looking at it though, the promotion I do through my work for Star Sports is pretty specialised and unlikely to be watched by too many people new to the game. That’s OK for a bookmaker but not the industry itself surely? The racecourses local to me work very hard at promoting themselves and do attract a lot of new people to them. I have a job at Wincanton and Exeter races where I go through the card before racing with guests in hospitality boxes.
The first question I ask them is if they are racing people or just on a day out. The majority of them are not racing people, just there for the day out, which substantiates the fantastic work of the racecourses. I always advise them to go down to the racecourse for at least one race where they’ll get the full atmosphere. The hope is that at least one or two of them will get the bug. I also dish out free £2 bets for the first race £20 worth from each racecourse bookie to tempt them down there.
I conducted a poll on Twitter a few weeks ago asking where people first went racing, the answer was overwhelmingly local meetings, not premier. You do see the local meetings, Exeter, Taunton and Newton Abbot advertising outside of racing and people come.
But the question begs, what does racing as an industry do? It does appear that they are happy to promote the sport ‘in house’ if at all. Are the people at the very top of the sport so blinkered as to think that as we mortals do in our bubble that everyone knows about horseracing? It looks that way, doesn’t it?
Where is the promotion for our sport to the ‘General Public’? There can’t be many multi-million-pound businesses that don’t run advertising campaigns aimed at them. Betting with bookmakers used to be a gateway into falling in love with the sport but now racing appears to want to rid itself of the association with gambling, despite being largely funded by it.
That’s fine if they think that’s the way forward, but it isn’t of course. Short-sighted as that is, even more worrying, despite appearing to have decided to jettison gambling, there doesn’t look to be a plan B apart from widening the gap between the big and regional courses. Smaller racecourses, if the results of my poll are to be believed, are the main gateway other than gambling attracting people to the sport. Now their biggest crowd-pulling days are threatened by premierisation which is madness.
My first meeting was Cheltenham on Mackeson day, even a precocious 18-year-old lad, despite falling in love with the hurley burley of the betting ring, it was still a daunting and slightly intimidating place to dip one’s toe.
Going racing for the first time with dress codes and so many areas we were barred from was annoying. Being turned away from so many gates was pretty off putting, we were ignorant to the various enclosures. Local tracks big days where families traditionally attend every year are much friendlier to casual racegoers.
I certainly wouldn’t want to take my kids to a big Saturday meeting, the most recent punch-up video doing the rounds has reinforced that decision.
What racing as a sport doesn’t appear to recognise is that while very little appears to be done in the way of advertising and promotion to the ‘General Public’ it’s been done for them from the roots up for years. It’s the small racecourses up and down the country that are getting people new to racing through their gates on a weekly basis.
Now the industry wants to strangle the only triers in the game. The sport grows from its roots which need to be nurtured because that’s where racing’s new blood comes from, not further enrichment of the already privileged top courses. It’s even more tragic that despite making these ludicrous decisions, horseracing at the top level appears to not be off a yard.
Half Arsed, wasn’t really strong enough Chris.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.
Simon Nott is author of: Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring
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