Thinking outside the box in pursuit of a new horse racing audience
The question of how horse racing can attract new followers is one that has been a hot topic for many decades. The debate over what demographic to target, and in what way to approach them is ever present, and opinions will always vary. However, there should always be room for new ideas and those that have worked well for other sports should always warrant extra attention.
The world has changed
an awful lot since March and “what are you watching on Netflix?” is now perhaps
only second to “this Covid is mad altogether isn’t it?”, as a conversation
filler in this part of the world. Since then, the sheer volume of people I heard
from or read on social media that started to take a much greater interest in
Formula 1 racing after watching Drive To Survive on Netflix has been
remarkable. People who never paid attention to it at all are now engaged
For those that aren’t
familiar with it, Drive To Survive is a behind-the-scenes documentary created
as a collaboration between Netflix and Formula 1, telling the story of a full
Formula 1 season. The viewer gets to know not just the main players, but the
supporting cast on the teams. The intricacies of the sport are embraced and
thanks to the quality of the production and storytelling, the strengths of the
core sporting product are shown in the best possible light.
McCoy on another winner with documentary
There is absolutely no
reason why horse racing couldn’t be showcased in this way. Programmes such as
Jump Boys and Being AP have shown how well our sport, and the stories within it, can translate to the
big screen. The sport itself is a feast for the eyes and the game is full of
characters with stories to tell.
documentary in the style of Drive To Survive that followed the fortunes of a
small number of trainers, their teams and stable stars would have any amount of
potential to be a wonderful showcase for our sport and the people within it.
The key to such a
documentary achieving its intended goal would be delivering it on a prominent
streaming platform such as Netflix to get it into the living rooms of new
audiences. It is no good preaching to the converted, we need to reach new
horizons in audience terms.
To take the
conversation a little bit further into left field, if one really wanted to
speak to a younger audience, the best way to do it would be to speak in their
For hundreds of
millions of young people of all backgrounds, video games are a common
denominator. In 2018, US$135 billion was spent on video games around the world.
Recent years have seen eSports, competitions between gamers, grow at an
astonishing rate. The mere notion of people wanting to watch other people play
computer games will be one that may seem odd to many readers of this column,
but the popularity of it is undeniable.
Indeed, the worldwide
audience for eSports is projected to grow to almost 500 million people this year and betting on it is a substantial growth area.
It is an absolutely colossal business and it would be an error to trivialise or
The power that video
games can have for increasing the popularity and understanding of a sport
really shouldn’t be underestimated either. There are likely to be plenty of
people around the world that can say an interest in horse racing was triggered,
nurtured and developed by playing one of the many horse racing games that were
around in the 1990s and 2000s, with the Gallop Racer and G1 Jockey series of
games being the most popular.
Created in Japan, the
G1 Jockey series was the most popular of these games and developed a cult
following around the world. It offered a highly-immersive simulation of race
riding and the level of realistic detail/nuance in both the race-riding
elements and the wider storylines made it very popular even with industry
professionals. Indeed, no shortage of the younger generation of current jockeys
spent endless hours playing it.
If one needed some
evidence as to what sort of thirst there would be out there for a new horse
racing video game, have a look at the response that this tweet from M3 Media
got during the summer when it mocked up a cover for a new racing game featuring
Time for a new racing game to get back in the saddle
It has been almost a decade since the last horse racing video game, Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer, was released in English and since then eSports and online play has taken off to an incredible extent. A new version of G1 Jockey that enabled online multiplayer play would have a great amount of potential to grow interest in horse racing among young demographics of all backgrounds all around the world.
Imagine a worldwide
season-long online tournament that led to the best players facing off in a
live-stream 40-runner Grand National or a 20-runner Derby at Epsom with a
winner-takes-it-all prizes? I’d watch them!
Now, I wouldn’t have
the slightest clue what it would take to persuade Koei Tecmo, the Japanese
company behind G1 Jockey, to develop a new English language version of the
game. However, if there was a possibility such a move could be stimulated by
outside investment/partnerships/sponsorships, or the offer of attractive
licensing deals to use British/Irish tracks and/or participants in the game
itself, it would be something worth exploring.
I’m sure plenty of
readers will think much of the above to be pie in the sky, but racing has been
trying plenty of tried, tested and failed methods for attracting new audiences
for long enough. Maybe it is time to try something a bit different that will put
the sport in front of millions of eyes, that otherwise wouldn’t see it.