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|Ascot and Goodwood lead experiment to find a free ticket to the
| 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
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
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
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.
Change has attracted plenty of criticism, but it is difficult to see anything
but positives in this latest idea unless the execution is flawed.