Main Menu
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

Ascot and Goodwood lead experiment to find a free ticket to the future 25/02/2010
Greg Wood
Free admission has been announced for eight meetings during one week in April in a bid to attract new fans to racing

Complaints that the Racing For Change project is merely a deckchair-shifting exercise are a little more difficult to justify this morning, thanks to an announcement that the sport will throw open its doors to the British public for six days this spring.

Every day from Monday 26 April to Saturday 1 May inclusive, at least one racecourse in Britain will offer free admission, a promotion that will be backed by a PR drive at national and local level, and an advertising campaign on regional radio.

The tracks involved have a wide geographical spread, and include major venues, with both Ascot's Sagaro Stakes card on 28 April and the Conqueror Stakes meeting at Goodwood on 1 May on the list. Both would normally be expected to generate many thousands of pounds in ticket sales, as would, for that matter, the evening meeting at Sedgefield on 27 April, which includes the Durham National, the track's biggest race of the season.

Getting eight different courses from across the country – Towcester, Wolverhampton, Kempton Park, Huntingdon and Doncaster are the others – to agree to a scheme like this must have taken a great deal of effort. Towcester, it's true, has been offering free admission for several years, but a business model based on charging as much for admission as the market will stand is standard practice elsewhere.

Racing For Change was conceived to broaden the appeal of racing and attract new fans. If the chance to visit tracks like Ascot and Goodwood for free does not get a few thousand first-time spectators across the threshold, either the advertising team will have failed to do their job, or the sport really is fighting a lost cause.

It promises to be a fascinating exercise in evangelism, not just in terms of how many people turn up, but also the who and why. And getting them in will be the easy part. Persuading them to return, and pay for the privilege, is the real point, which will mean that the quality of their first, and potentially only, raceday experience will be of vital importance.

It is not just a question of whether there will be enough staff on the food counters and bars, or enough toilets to cope with the demand. The important job will be to convey enough of the fascination and beauty of horse racing to enough first-time racegoers in the limited time available to spark at least a casual interest in future.

They will also be able to "pay" for their day out in other ways. Everyone who comes through the gate on a free day should be asked for their email address, to allow for follow-up research and a cheap means of contact with details of future events. We might then get some idea of what persuaded people to find their way to a track, and what excited their interest – or turned them off – when they were there.

If a bookmaker, or the Tote, can be brought on board to offer a free bet – perhaps in return for that email address – so much the better. And a team of highly-visible enthusiasts to answer any question that occurs to anyone, however basic or obvious it might seem, should also be a priority.

In fact, any current racing fan who attends one of the free meetings will be able to do their bit, if only by biting their tongue if a "newbie" is holding up the Tote queue when the horses are already being loaded.

Word-of-mouth can work both ways, after all, and even a few hundred people going back into their daily lives with a negative impression of racing and racegoers would be a serious disappointment.

Racing For Change has attracted plenty of criticism, but it is difficult to see anything but positives in this latest idea – unless the execution is flawed.