Good morning all,
My thoughts on falling attendances and the reaosns behind it on today's Punt, plus one from Worcester tonight.
For a while now, I’ve done the odd piece on diminishing crowds, and the reasons I feel have been behind it. We can point to Covid and the cost of living crisis being part of the reason and that is undoubtedly true, but what it does is mask the fact that attendances have been on the slide for some time.
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I think the first time I really noticed it this year was the Cheltenham April meeting. You can guarantee a crowd of around 10-11k for both days every year -indeed, the last time crowds were at the fixture in 2019, it was 11k on the Wednesday and almost 12k on the Thursday, but this year it felt very, very quiet. And I was right, it was – 6,500 on the Wednesday and 6,600 on the Thursday. That’s some drop off. Then came the Hunter Chase night, and I worked on the bottom rail, the one near the horsewalk. It was as quiet a night as I have known at Cheltenham. 14,634 back in 2019, down to 8,900 this year. I didn’t take 150 bets all night.
Newmarket, mid-April, was down from an average of 5,520 in 2019 over the three days to just 3,031 this year. We’re still waiting for the official figures for Guineas weekend but I can tell you now they will be down. York last week, well, I worked all three days and frankly it was as if they hadn’t opened the gates on the Wednesday. Things were slightly better on the Thursday and again on the Friday but well down on what would be expected.
York, as I have said before, is the blueprint every track should aspire to. You could buy a badge for the three days that would cost you between £60-80 (depending on when you bought it) for three days of top-class racing. Neither are you overcharged for food and drink once you’re in. If York can’t get a crowd, what hope is there for the rest of the tracks this summer?
The mantra being echoed around a fortnight ago was, “well, let’s see what the summer brings.” I’ll tell you now what it will bring – attendances well down, 30%-40% will be the norm, if not worse at some tracks. Things need to change, now, not in a month, not in a week – if the tracks want it to.
It is STILL far too expensive to go racing midweek. ARC have, to some extent, realised that putting their prices up earlier in the year has backfired. Who the hell wants to pay in excess of £20 to watch what the likes of Worcester is going to put on, when you could pay that to watch York? You know what you should pay midweek for any fixture where the crowd will be less than a thousand? In my opinion, a fiver, particularly now when runners are low.
And courses need to start taking cash. The majority that come in the week are those with time on their hands, and that means the elderly. Many simply don’t have cards or are reluctant to use them. If you have cash, then rolling up and paying a fiver makes a day at the races far more appealing. Have a look at this tweet from @BettingWally earlier in the week;
“I’ve just turned up at Brighton and it’s card only on the gate. I had to pay on my card for a pensioner (who’d travelled down from London) and he gave me the cash otherwise he wasn’t going to get in. Joke.” You can see the problem.
We’ve been over racecourse food and drink so many times on the Punt that I’m fed up of saying it. At the majority of tracks it is too expensive, with a few notable exceptions. We now have ARC charging you 50p (non-refundable) for a plain, plastic pint holder at their tracks, a massive joke. Yes, it’s reusable but something costing about two pence to make and marked up to 50p to sell to customers if they want a pint really is taking the mick. Almost Ryanair territory, that.
With Britbet/RGT taking over from the AGT at the end of August, it almost certainly means the beginning of the end for on-course bookmakers, as Britbet will want all the best sites for their own pitches. Whatever your views on the books, it’ll mean a colourless, boring ring.
The more you look at the whole situation the more it appears to me that customers are now a nuisance to the tracks, and the bookmakers not far behind. Media rights are now the main moneymaker for the tracks, and the revenue from punters just a mere irrelevance. If the punters and bookmakers weren’t there, would the tracks miss them? I suggest not, and as attendances continue to fall, and parts of tracks continue to be closed off (as I write this, the main stand at Wolverhampton isn’t in operation today due to low ticket sales, and last Saturday the Lawn Enclosure at Doncaster was similarly shut) the tracks will only keep pushing customers away, unless they really are serious about things changing, of course – in which case, action needs taking now.
Today at Worcester I like Serjeant Painter in the first at Worcester, the 5.15. A field of thoroughly exposed individuals, Serjeant Painter, whilst not bred for the job, has enough size about him and I don't think the yard would be wasting their time with him over the bigger obstacles unless he'd schooled well enough. He was consistent last year and I suspect he can make a winning start over fences today.
Good luck with all your bets today,