The Big Punting Survey – does horse racing have a problem?

 

The results of the Big Punting Survey are in, and it has illuminated a potential problem for the sport. Or has it?

Over 10,000 of you participated, with over a third indicating that they were between the ages of 55 and 64, making this age group the most popular. When you factor in the two older age groups, which were also popular, it turns out that 73% of people who took the survey were 55 or older, while 1.4% of people who could be considered newbies were 25 or younger.

As evidenced by the fact that 43% of you identified as retired, a 6% larger group than the cohort of people over the age of 65, some of you have evidently made prudent investments over the course of your lives and are able to unwind and take pleasure in the results. Only 1% of respondents said they were looking for work, with 42% working full-time.

Because youth is one of the characteristics that contributes to an industry becoming fashionable, some officials will instinctively be concerned about the lack of a younger audience. However, given that horseracing has always attracted older viewers, it might be better to just relax and accept that fact. After all, there are a number of reasons why it might occasionally turn out that way.

“This is why this sort of research is important to do over time,” says Simon Clare, PR director at Ladbrokes Coral and a longstanding lover of the sport. “Because it could just be that’s the way it always is, that people in their life-cycle are more likely to really commit and love racing in a passionate way as they get older.

“Even if, at a younger age, you dip in and out, you’re still time-poor, you’re doing other stuff, your career is more important, you’re socialising more. Actually, racing happens to have a really good fit with people who may be slowing down, lifestyle-wise, their kids are grown up, the job’s not so important, they have more money.”

With 23% of you spending two hours or more per day thinking about the game, whether that means watching racing, reading about it, or choosing bets, free time appears to be an important factor for racing fans to make the most of their hobby. A further third of our respondents stated that they devote at least half an hour per day to these activities. That leaves little time for anything else for people who work full-time.

However, Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, the official marketing and promotion body for the sport, believes there are cause for concern. “At some point in the mid-to-late 1980s, racing was in a position where it had very little competition from other betting products,” he says, recalling a time when shop betting on horses and greyhounds dominated the landscape.

“If you had a desire to have a flutter at any level, racing was your education. Today, if you’re a young person with an interest in having a flutter, it is highly likely that your first bet is going to be on something else. And it’s football, isn’t it?

“Racing has done very well over the ensuing decades, through a rise in betting volumes. We know that betting in general has increased exponentially over the last 40 years or so, but that’s disguised a drastic loss of market share of consumers.

“So it’s a challenge that this data throws up, to me and I think for the sport: how do we attract people when they are not likely to come through in the volumes that they used to in the 1970s and the 1980s and even the early 1990s?”

Support for Street’s point can be found in the answer to the question, ‘How long have you followed racing?’. For 86 per cent, the answer was more than 20 years while only two per cent of you have joined the party within the last five years.

Professor David Forrest of the University of Liverpool, who has studied gambling habits extensively, believes that racing can afford to be philosophical about this to some extent. “Older people go for high stakes,” he says. “They’re actually much better customers than the young, who don’t [bet] as regularly and don’t spend very much.”

Forrest, like Clare, can see the value in conducting the same survey on a regular basis to see how the situation changes and whether racing is able to attract new fans at the rate necessary to maintain support.

“I call it the Radio 4 problem,” he says. “It’s always been the case that the Radio 4 audience has been old. But over the years, it’s always succeeded in replacing the old folk. Listening to Radio 4 appears to be a life-cycle issue. Every generation is the same. When they get old, they switch to Radio 4.

“But there’s always the risk that this won’t continue. The media landscape has changed so much that maybe the current 50-year-olds won’t suddenly switch to Radio 4. Maybe they’ll find other things. That’s the BBC’s worry and it’s similar to racing’s worry.”

On the other hand, Forrest acknowledges evidence that racing’s audience is strongly attached to the game, specifically the 23% who spend two hours a day playing it. “This points to a strong group of supporters of race betting for whom it is an absorbing hobby.

“Academic research has likened the hobby as akin to solving crossword puzzles. The concern is whether the challenge of tackling the complex puzzle presented by a horseracing card will appeal to a succeeding generation, compared with the more straightforward problem of assessing two teams in a football match.”

 

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