The regular racegoer: the most neglected customer in Irish racing
This weekend will see the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival take place at Leopardstown and it promises to be a wonderful event. The racing on the track is set to be of the highest class and Leopardstown have put together a tremendous programme of off-track entertainment to complete the experience for those in attendance.
Already, there has been speculation as to how many people will attend this much-promoted two-day event, but personally, such chat means little to me. I have long been of the opinion that using racecourse attendances as a barometer of the health of the sport or success of an individual meeting is completely and utterly ill-advised.
Attendance numbers, particularly of the more casual racegoers, are too heavily influenced by the weather and factors such as other sporting events taking place at the same time to be considered a reliable short-term reflection of anything.
Thus, regardless of what the attendance figures are at the completion of the Dublin Racing Festival, they should not be used as a means to praise or damn the initiative. What will be much more important is something that cannot easily be quantified on paper, that of the feel and atmosphere of the occasion. This cannot be created by numbers alone, but by the passion and excitement of a genuinely engaged and emotionally-invested crowd.
While Leopardstown should be applauded for going to the efforts and expense that they have to provide an eclectic mix of off-track entertainment in a bid to attract the biggest and most diverse audience that they can, it will be the presence of truly passionate racing followers that will dictate the feel of the day.
Given the top-class quality of the racing programme, one can only hope that they are rewarded with a strong attendance of such racegoers that will lift the roof in response to the action on the track.
On the subject of attracting truly passionate racing fans to the track, I will briefly rehash a conversation that was had during the Future Proofed event that I participated in at the ITBA Expo last Friday. A lot of the chat focused on, as it often does at these events within the industry, what we can do to get new people into the sport, be they stable staff, owners or racegoers.
One of my main points was that rather than forever searching for ways to get new people involved, perhaps we would be much better served investing more time and money into better looking after the people we already have in those roles.
Over the years, there have been multiple calls made in this space to make various improvements for stable staff, owners and racegoers and to be fair, recent years have seen good improvements made in many of the areas that needed attention.
However, of all the suggestions I have made over the years, the one that I keep coming back to and is a great source of frustration that it has never been acted upon is the introduction of a loyalty scheme for Irish racegoers.
So much time and money is invested by the racing authorities and individual racecourses in pursuit of new racegoers and racing followers, but what I would argue is the most important customer of all in horse racing is effectively ignored.
These are those that have a passionate interest in racing, going racing a dozen or more times a year. It is them that drive the aforementioned feel and atmosphere at a race meeting that cannot be replicated by sheer volume alone.
They are the ones that gather around the parade ring before and after each race. They are the ones that roar the horses home from the stands and applaud the winner no matter whether it is the result they wanted or not. They spend more money on their interest in horse racing than any post-race concert goer ever will. Yet, they are never the target of any of the special offers or marketing gimmicks that racing uses to attract people to the track.
Some racecourses and small groups of tracks have made efforts over the years to put together membership deals that reward regular attendees, but that is not nearly enough. It beggars belief that the racegoer who goes racing 20 times a year has to pay the same to attend as a once-a-year racegoer.
What has long been needed in Irish racing is a centrally-run loyalty scheme that not only incentivises racing’s most ardent followers to go racing even more, but also rewards them for doing so.
For example, the existing AIR swipe card system (perhaps incorporating a photo on the card to dissuade misuse) could be used to keep track of how many times an individual goes racing and if they go racing 10 times in a calendar year that would trigger a 25% discount on subsequent attendances.
If they go 20 times a year that would trigger a 50% discount on subsequent attendances and so on. There could also be additional rewards for such levels of attendance such as free merchandise or access to racing events such as stable tours and the like. Not only will it make racing’s best customers feel more valued, it will also encourage them to go racing even more and enhance more race meetings with their passionate support.
The value of customers such as these to racing cannot be overstated. It is exceptionally difficult to create such a dedicated follower of the sport from scratch and when they get to that level of interest, racing should cherish them and go out of its way to ensure that they are well looked after. Yet, right now they are completely and utterly taken for granted.
Every time I have suggested such a loyalty scheme in print over the years it has been greeted with widespread approval amongst racing supporters, yet it has never been acted upon by those with the power to implement it in Horse Racing Ireland.
Indeed, I proposed it directly to HRI when a part of the media contingent asked for their views during the consultancy phase of the Strategic Marketing Report back in 2011. While the suggestion was included in the published report, here we are so much further down the road and still nothing has been done to implement it.
This is the sort of thing that the Racegoers Consultative Forum should be pushing HRI for at every opportunity in the best interests of the racegoers they are supposed to represent, but as was discussed in this space a few months ago, that group could come up with a cure for cancer and would still be ignored by the board of HRI.
One can only hope that in light of numerous personnel changes in key roles in Horse Racing Ireland in the last year or so that the ignoring of committed racing supporters will come to an end, but previous form suggests that outcome is a depressingly big price.