British Racing Attendances Down for a Fourth Straight Year in 2019

Beverley Racegoers

Credit: Dom Fellowes, flickr (Crop)

British racing’s poor attendance figures continue to fall with a staggering half a million people fewer heading to their local track in 2019 than just four years earlier.

It’s the fourth straight year in which spectator numbers have been dwindling, and now they are at record low levels since the turn of the century.

The major concern for the head honchos of British racing is that 2018’s downturn was explainable: there was the ‘Beast from the East’ snow, the summer heatwave and the football World Cup, all of which played their part in keeping people away from the racing.

But 2019 had no such trends to factor in, and now officials must work out why the demand for a day at the racing is as low as it has been for two decades.

It puts further financial pressure on the sport, with gambling levy money also falling and fears over the costs that post-Brexit racing will create in transporting horses from the UK to Ireland and France, and vice versa.

All in all, 5.62 million people attended a British race meeting in 2019, which is down on the 5.77 million from the year prior and a rather more significant loss of nearly 500,000 people annually since 2015.

Racing’s Challenges Laid Bare

Chart Showing UK Annual Racecourse Attendances Between 2015 and 2019

With more than 8% of horse racing fans deserting the sport in the past four years, questions have to be asked about what is being done to reinvigorate the interest of lapsed spectators and attract new ones to British tracks.

Again, here are those alarming attendance figures at a glance:

Year Attendance Annual % Change
2015 6.13m
2016 5.99m -2.28%
2017 5.95m -0.67%
2018 5.77m -3.03%
2019 5.62m -2.60%

The chief executive of Great British Racing, Rod Street, said:

“I think the sport faces some challenges, but within those are some opportunities. We have to be realistic about trends and not expect things to turn around overnight.

“The challenge is we are not attracting enough new people. It will take time to get racing more deeply into the public consciousness.”

While there are pressures in the form of competition from other leisure activities, Britain’s other most popularly attended is currently riding a high after achieving record numbers in 2019.

Nearly 18.4 million people attended a Football League match in the 2018/19 season, which is the highest rate in the past 60 years and an increase year-on-year of 1.13%.

Premier League attendances have also remained pretty much at their all-time high, with 14.62 million fans attending last season – down slightly from 2017/18’s record of 14.63 million but still significantly up on the preceding two decades.

It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest the British public is losing its appetite for live sport.

The brand manager at the Racecourse Association, Paul Swain, says:

“We’re mindful of the fact the trend is down, but we’re still encouraged by some of the things going on beyond that number.

“Overall we’re not too downbeat, it’s frustrating that it’s down, but we’re retaining our market share as the second-most attended sport behind football. 5.62 million is still a lot of people.”