HORSE RACING IRELAND is considering allowing punters use online betting and betting exchanges at racecourses to counter the rapidly falling attendance numbers at Irish race meetings.
Since 2007, the number of people attending race meetings every year has plummeted by 260,000 and in a bid to re-energise the sport, HRI yesterday launched a Strategic Marketing Group Report that recommended a wide array of changes to how the sport is run.
“This report will earn some criticism which I hope will be constructive,” said marketing group chairman Down Royal racecourse chairman, Jim Nicholson yesterday.
“I do hope it doesn’t create cynicism because there’s already too much of that. It’s time to talk our industry up instead of constantly talking it down.”
Working closely with betting exchanges is likely to prove the most controversial recommendation, because much of the blame for the declining numbers at race meetings has been laid at the door of the exchanges and online betting sites.
“There’s a core of people interested in racing just to bet and there are now better options off-course rather than on-course and we have to find ways to attract people to the racecourse,” said the head of the marketing group, Michael O’Rourke, yesterday.
“The encroachment of online and phone apps for betting has definitely hit attendance at race courses, and that’s something that’s happened worldwide.
“The younger better in particularly is using these methods and it’s important we give people at the track the same methods of betting that they use away from the track or they won’t have a compelling reason to come.
“That will mean the establishment of wifi-enabled sports lounges and hotspots and engaging with the online exchange betting providers as business partners.”
The marketing group has also recommended the reintroduction of the racecourse improvement scheme, with a particular focus on improving facilities at The Curragh and Leopardstown racecourses.
“They’re the premier tracks, the showcase for this industry and we’re up against sports such as Gaelic games, rugby and soccer who all have absolutely world-class facilities,” said O’Rourke.
“Newcomers to racing are likely to attend our premier venues — The Curragh and Leopardstown — so they have to be bought up to that standard.”
HRI’s market research has told them that only 23% of the Irish population are interested in horse racing, which doesn’t compare well with the market share enjoyed by Gaelic games (50%), rugby (48%) and soccer (47%).
Leinster Rugby chiefs have proven that you can still increase your market share and revenue during a recession, and Leinster’s marketing manager, Keira Kennedy, helped put together yesterday’s report.
Another key member of the group, Smurfit Business School lecturer, John Fanning, reckons Irish horse racing can reverse its declining fortunes and enjoy a much brighter future than most predict.
“The Irish public’s eyes are wide open and their wallets are half-shut. That’s how they’re looking at things now and that’s what we had to take into account,” said Fanning.
“Nowadays people want to concentrate on what we do best. And in a sporting context we do nothing better than racing. It’s hard-wired into the Irish psyche and only equalled or surpassed by the GAA.
“Because we live in a global world and because Irish people want to be reassured that we have things here that we do really well on a global scale, there’s a huge opportunity for Irish racing to reconnect with the public.
“It’s been lost a little bit in recent years because there have been so many other attractions, but I think people now want to reconnect with what they know we do well on a global scale.
“If we can imaginatively make that connection, I think the future for Irish racing is very bright.”
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