Data and understanding racecourse customers

Know Your Customer is the main driver behind the Insight=Growth project – a two-year project, led by the Racecourse Association and Great British Racing as part of the industry’s Strategy for Growth, which has the key target of increasing attendance to seven million a year by 2020.

Halfway into the study, Two Circles, the sports specialist marketing agency responsible for building and analysing racing’s biggest ever customer database and carrying out the biggest national horseracing customer survey in recent times, has unearthed several vital clues to customer behaviour at a national level.

For example, of people who purchase tickets in advance, only 27 percent return year-on-year, while the frequency of purchasing averages at a mere 1.2 fixtures a year. In addition, there are around ten million people who have been racing or are considering attending in the past year, while a far larger pool of around 34 million people – 70 per cent of the British adult population – are aware of racing but not currently considering attending.

Such basic items of customer data are evidence of the opportunities open to British racing, according to the Two Circles project team, led by Gareth Balch, Devesh Mangtani and Paul Latham.

“Over the last 15 to 20 years racing’s attendances have been largely static,” Mangtani explains, “and while it’s fantastic that racing has managed to remain the second largest spectator sport, we know that taking into account all the major spectator sports, British sport attendances have gone up by eight per cent in that same period.

“We’re in a society where people are more likely to spend money on intangibles, such as live experiences, holidays and days out, than ever before, whereas previous generations would be more likely to spend first on tangibles such as furniture, fridges and washing machines.

“Racing has still done well but this entire project is about the opportunity for racing to realise the incremental growth that the rest of the market is.”

Looking at the specifics that Two Circles is discussing in a unique collaboration with 58 racecourses, Mangtani says: “The racecourses definitely need to sell more tickets in advance. Without this, there cannot be sustainable attendance growth, and it is true for any sport or live event.

“Although walk-ups are always going to play a role, given the nature of the sport, the level of tickets sold in advance for horseracing is staggeringly low, compared to other spectator sports.

“After football, there’s no other sport that has the supply that racing can offer, which is great in one regard, but the challenge is to create the magical quality of scarcity.

“Racing has a bad, late sales curve, because on average 60 per cent of tickets are sold in the last 30 days before an event, which is another symptom of the fact that racing has a lot of supply.

“The opportunity for growth rests in what racing can do to push the sales curve higher earlier. For example, Ascot has experienced record ticket sales across all days of the Royal meeting in the last few years, which has been driven a lot by their understanding of the shape of their sales curve and how they can influence that by selling more tickets earlier through smarter marketing.

“Advance tickets provide one truth. Under that sits retention of customers year on year, acquisition of new customers – important but it can be five times more expensive than retention – frequency and the raceday experience, which ties in directly to retention.

“Racing faces an interesting set of challenges. A retention challenge, for instance, trying to get more people to make going to the races a fixture in their diaries year on year, and create what we call ‘an appointment to view’.

“Then there’s a lower priority frequency challenge, which we have found to be tougher in all the sports we’ve worked with. The only sport where frequency is less tough to shift is football, but we all know that football holds a different place in society and the sporting landscape.”

Having begun the Insight=Growth project in March 2015 and run workshops entitled Engage, Discover and Act, the Two Circles team has now embarked on the second year under the banner Accelerate, with the focus firmly on action.

“Data’s only good if you do something with it and it delivers a return,” Mangtani says. “The project’s vision was to create a transformational approach to adopt insight-led customer marketing to sell more tickets. To do that, in the second year in particular, we will aim to support racecourses more on a one-to-one basis.

“There’s scope within the project for us to work directly with racecourses as an extended part of the team through a campaign, creating case studies from which everyone can benefit. It’s a formula that, from our past experience with Ascot and Goodwood and other sport and leisure events, we know works, and we will help each racecourse understand how its business is driven.”

Drilling deeper into the project details, which derive from 2.4 million unique transactions over four years and £213 million worth of ticket sales, the Two Circles team is paying particular attention to a group called Considerers.

Mangtani explains: “One of the findings, and an eye-opener at that, was that while a small number of people were not aware that horseracing exists, 70 per cent of the British adult population are aware of racing as a day out but would not consider going. That presents one of the single biggest opportunities for the sport to increase attendance.

“There are two big things that can be done to increase the number who consider going racing – by appealing to the socialising masses, making more people who are aware of the sport and are looking for a great day out pick racing; and by broadcasting how great value a day at the races can be, because we know from previous studies that from a price and experience perspective racing fares very favourably against other sports and leisure activities.

“The social aspect, which 66 per cent of attendees rated as the most important to their day out, and value are the two biggest triggers that racing can use.”

Mangtani accepts that change will not come overnight and that the data will only be as good as the actions that racecourses take in the coming months.

However, he adds: “Racing is in an incredible position to buck the trend of the last 15 years by creating sustainable growth in the next few years and beyond to improve the health of the sport, the industry and attendances.

“It’s all about transformation, which the project will inform and influence. Setting the foundations now, in a customer-led, data-driven manner, will help racing achieve sustainable growth by 2020 and beyond.

“The opportunity is ripe, in a country that loves days out and attending live sport, to achieve that target and realise the opportunity. We’re on the cusp of something quite exciting.”