In the final part of our four-part look at the work of the Racing For Change (now Great British Racing) initiative, Chief Executive Rod Street tells Chris Smith why cashing in on the potential of Sunday racing is a problem that will need a new approach.
Great British Racing has made great strides since it was formed to raise the profile – and therefore ultimately the profitability – of the sport in Britain. No stone has been left unturned in the ongoing quest to find new ways of attracting more people through the racecourse gates and more money into racing’s coffers.
No stone, that is, except one.
“Sundays have got to be the big unmined area of opportunity,” Chief Executive Rod Street said.
Racing on a Sunday has been taking place in Britain for 22 years, but largely it has been moderate fare with limited public appeal, unlike in the rest of Europe, where most of the biggest meetings take place on Sundays. There’s a vast gulf in quality between Britain’s best Sunday race - the G1 Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May – and everything else.
“There’s a big stumbling block,” Street said. “Corporately, courses do very poorly on a Sunday. Their corporate side dies. Sunday is not a good corporate day, whereas Saturday is. I’m not sure about The Curragh and Longchamp, but it might be that the difference is cultural in those countries. At Northern Racing [the racetrack operators where Street was managing director for 14 years until taking his current job], Sundays were very tough. So an obstacle to success is that courses lose a major income stream.
“Notwithstanding that, Great British Racing have to be supportive of it because it’s one of the best consumer days of the week. So, if we love Saturdays, we’ve got to love Sundays.”
He believes the first obstacle to overcome could well be the attitude of the lady of the house in homes across the country.
“There’s something in our culture,” he said. “Saturday is about football, dads going to football with lads, morning football. It’s also a day of recreational leisure. Sunday’s family day. We’ve done consumer research on it. Mum makes the decision on a Sunday. She makes the decision about what the family will do at the weekend.
“So it’s a huge area of untapped potential, but maybe we’ve got to think about doing it a different way.”
A major problem is the lack of terrestrial television coverage, which makes sponsorship hard to come by.
“Certainly you’ve got to get people through the gate because you’re losing your corporate and your sponsorship income, and it’s not helpful that the broadcaster is not interested in Sunday racing, probably because of the competition from other sports that day,” Street said. “Between September and May, we’re up against football. Sky is showing if not one then two really big games on a Sunday. So that’s another income stream done. But, just thinking about bums on seats and a great day out, Sunday with some good innovative racing, it’s got to be the next thing we go at.”
It can be done, as the historic racecourse next to the old city walls at Chester has proved. Chester Racecourse, close to the massive conurbations of Merseyside and Greater Manchester, regularly has crowds around 40,000 for its summer Sunday “family day” fixtures.
“Chester is a blueprint for all that’s good about running a racecourse,” Street said. “Their prize-money is good, their customer focus is second to none, they are blessed by a demographic just by being right in the middle of the town. That’s a lot of chimney pots within an hour’s drive. They do it so well, so customer-focused.”
In November, the track won the British Racecourse Association’s premier accolade – its Showcase Award – for 2013.
Chester Head of Racing Andrew Morris said afterwards: “It is a great testament to the team ethic at the racecourse, and our commitment to place the customer experience at the heart of each and every decision we make.”