Popularity of equestrian sports — racing in particular — has hit a record high, with attendance second only to football.

Research carried out by the sports business group at Deloitte signalled that racing was a national crowd-pleaser, attracting six million people in 2004, against 8.8m football fanatics and well ahead of 3.2m rugby followers. The nation’s 59 racecourses generated £250m turnover in 2004, tailing football’s £1.8b.

Eventing also ranked highly, with Badminton Horse Trials placed sixth in this year’s top 10 listing of one-off sporting events, pulling in 165,000 spectators over four days.

However, it was racing that cleaned up: taking second place (Cheltenham Festival, 230,000); third (Royal Ascot at York, 225,000); seventh (Aintree Grand National meeting, 145,000); and eighth (Epsom Derby meeting, 140,000). The top crowd-pleaser was tennis at Wimbledon, with 467,000 spectators.

British Horseracing Board (BHB) marketing director Chris John welcomed the findings, reflecting “tremendous growth in racing’s popularity over recent years”.

“We have more fixtures than ever, at racegoer-friendly times, and are second only to football in both spectator numbers and television viewers,” he said. “Our racecourses offer excellent facilities and a day out with something for everyone.”

British Equestrian Federation performance director Will Connell said while it was no surprise Badminton was up with major events, it was “nice to see it in black and white”.

Deloitte is planning to follow up its inaugural research with in-depth studies, including an insight into what successful racecourses are doing right.

Alan Switzer, who headed up the research, said other sports could learn crucial lessons from the racing industry and its £250m recipe for success.

Findings should be available before the end of the year, with analysis planned for 2006 concerning investment into refurbishment and development of racecourses.

  • This news article was first published in Horse & Hound (17 November, ’05)

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