British horse racing targets true fans among young

London (AFP) –


Horse racing in England is on an "upward curve" but faces challenges in keeping both the traditionalists and the younger generation happy, a leading figure in the sport says.

Paul Fisher, chief executive of Jockey Club Racecourses, which is responsible for blue riband events such as the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, said it is essential to maintain the centuries-old history and heritage of the "Sport of Kings".

Fisher said racecourses had introduced "funky food" and post-meeting concerts had helped bring in younger people but the challenge is to transform them from social racegoers to racing fans.

"The great thing is we have a unique demographic in racing with a 55-45 male-female split," Fisher told the Leaders Week conference in London on Tuesday.

"Like every sport we are chasing the younger fan and we have got to give the 20-30-year-olds what they want.

"So for instance last year after the Cheltenham Festival we organised a nightclub. It is exactly what they want. Youngsters want cocktails and funky food and to dance afterwards."

"In the last few years we have become the fifth-biggest rock promoter in the UK but we have still got to keep racing at the heart of the story. We have to convert the young social racegoers into racing fans."

Fisher is aware that racing has a particular terminology, which is not immediately accessible, hence the introduction of an app by the Jockey Club called "Racing Explained".

"Racing is a difficult sport to get one's head around," he said.

"For instance people don't know what a furlong (roughly 200 metres) means to a young audience so we have linked up with broadcaster ITV to help decode the sport but again you don't want to fall into being accused of dumbing down the sport.

"I think racing is doing a really good job in bringing racing to the masses in the country. It is the second most attended sport in the country. Racing is on an upward curve."

For Fisher's counterpart at Surrey County Cricket Club, Richard Gould, retaining a loyal following is not so much about the spectator buying their next drink but a ticket for the next match.

"We just need to maximise those who are enjoying the sport," said Gould.

"Four to five years ago at a T20 (Twenty20) match at The Oval we had an average crowd of 6-8000. Now we have full houses of around 25,000. Who would have believed it?

"We are trying to make sure they not only have a great day but they become a supporter of the team and take pride in the place and establish a real affinity with the team."