While many sports saw a fall in gate receipts in 2010, the attraction of a day at the races rose. Figures released by the Racecourse Association showed the number of people going racing at the country’s 60 courses rose for the second consecutive year in 2010 with daily average attendances up 3.4 per cent.
The figures showed a total rise in racecourse attendance of 0.9 per cent, despite a drop in the number of fixtures being staged. Positive figures appeared across the board, for both the larger and smaller courses, with Bath racecourse seeing almost 17 per cent more people through its gates, while York saw a rise of 11 per cent. Britain’s newest racecourse, Ffos Las in Wales, showed an increase of just under 20 per cent.
The Racecourse Association’s Chief Executive Stephen Atkin said: “I am delighted to see these figures, it is a vindication of the hard work being done behind the scenes at Britain’s racecourses to attract customers in all guises, especially those new to the sport.”
Along with a wealth of competitive racing, many courses took the opportunity in 2010 to broaden their entertainment and business offering, hosting concerts and themed days to draw in the crowds. Cheltenham Racecourse’s Marketing Executive Rebecca Sharpley told CN: “We are known for our racing, but the conference and events side is really coming forward as a major part of our business mix. As we only race for 16 days a year, it is essential that the conference and events side grows, develops and brings in further business opportunities which benefit all the corporate, live events and racing sides.”
Sandown Park’s Marketing Executive Tom Haslam agreed, and said racing only accounts for 60 per cent of the Surrey racecourse’s revenue.
“We will have held 27 race meetings by the end of 2011, and it is certainly important to build a strong events calendar for the remainder of the year,” he said. “Room hire and catering for conferences, exhibitions, meetings, banqueting and private events accounts for the other 40 per cent of our revenue.
“Race day hospitality is a crucial element of our business, and Sandown Park is a popular corporate hospitality destination for London and Surrey-based businesses. Some of our most modern and best viewing facilities are hospitality-focused.”
In August 2010, a concert by Irish boy band Westlife sold out Newbury Racecourse to cap off a day’s racing. The venue is to launch itself for the first time as a stand alone concert venue, Newbury LIVE on 29 May 2011. Grammy Award-winning singer and Newbury race-goer Rod Stewart will launch the live music space, in what will be the first time the racecourse has staged a concert not connected to its horseracing fixtures. The venue will have capacity for 20,000 visitors.
Conference and Events Manager at Aintree, Deborah Slee, said the conference and events side of the business is “critical” to Aintree. “We now have 10 staff in the department including front of house and event managers and the turnover we generate is a vital, regular income stream for the racecourse,” she said.
“In the last 12 months it has been a difficult economic climate but we have managed to sustain current levels of business, holding onto long term clients and repeat business. We are having to work harder, there is no doubt. The team is doing a lot more networking and we have dedicated a bigger budget to an aggressive marketing strategy promoting the venue both to the corporate sector and to the wedding and events sector.”
Haydock Park Racecourse’s Marketing Executive, Diane Glover, said: “The conference and events business is extremely competitive during the current business climate and we are working hard to both attract new clients and retain current ones. Our location can be both advantageous, in that we are not city-centre based with plenty free car parking and easy access from the M6 motorway, centrally-based between Liverpool and Manchester and at a disadvantage in that there is an abundance of hotel-based conference centres in the city centre offering hotel accommodation. We are working hard to market our unique selling points of offering a conference centre within a beautiful racecourse setting.”
Racecourses have the ability to host thousands of visitors at one time with ease, and in recognising their ability to bring in much needed business returns when the horses aren’t racing, they could be onto a winning ticket.
Five racecourses that are adapting their offerings:
? Aintree Racecourse has launched a new business division offering team building days to businesses, themes include sporting events, assault courses and theme days. The course recently underwent a £35m redevelopment and now boasts five grandstands and an international Equestrian Centre. Conference and Events Manager Debbie Slee said: “Many people aren’t aware of how diverse Aintree is. We aren’t just the venue for the famous Grand National. We have a great resource here, with the ability to accommodate anything from 10 delegates through to in excess of 400. With the new International Equestrian Centre we also now have more than 3,700sqm of exhibition space.”
? Sodexo Prestige has been reappointed by Ascot Racecourse in a five-year contract worth an estimated £100m in total turnover. Sodexo will provide sales and delivery of all hospitality packages, and catering for non-raceday activities including conferences and events.
? The new £6.5m 888sport Premier Grandstand at Fontwell Park opened at the end of 2010. The three-storey Grandstand has 12 private hospitality boxes on the top floor, a glass fronted hospitality/banqueting lounge for over 300 people on the middle floor and a multi-purpose suite on the ground floor with new catering and betting facilities.
As well as being used for 23 race meetings a year, the racecourse will now offer a function suite for over 300 guests. There is conference space for more than 600 delegates over two floors with 12 breakout rooms.
? Exeter Racecourse has completed a £2.2m extension to its Haldon Stand, which has created six extra rooms, all overlooking the racecourse and surrounding forest. This extension was a direct result of the expanding conference business.
? Doncaster Racecourse hopes to boost its appeal around the Royal Wedding, by offering free enclosures on the day. It has received more than 17,000 online bookings for the event, which was advertised via social networking sites. The attendance will not fall short of St Leger Day.
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