Weekend audience up but overall figures fall short of last year

Slipping midweek audiences were one factor behind an overall dip in racecourse attendances in Britain in 2017, which although topping 5.95 million fell short of the 5.98m who attended in 2016.   

The latest figures, revealed by the Racecourse Association on Thursday, show the aggregate attendance to be the fourth highest in the last ten years – 5,953,749, against 5,987,167 in 2016 – while also highlighting a rise in engagement at weekends.

Attendances on Saturdays across 2017 totalled 2,290,937, compared to 2,271,999 in 2016, while Sundays increased by a healthy nine per cent from 451,756 in 2016 to 493,646 in 2017.

However, median attendances across the year fell to their lowest recorded level last year at 2,840 on the Flat and 1,889 for jump fixtures, representing a decline in midweek participation.

The average attendance across the 1,463 fixtures held in 2017 was 4,070, compared to 4,175 in 2016.

RCA chief executive Stephen Atkin said: “The overall attendance numbers for 2017 were stable and comparable to 2016.

"This is offset by several major racedays where big crowds would be expected being abandoned, including the whole of the William Hill Gold Cup meeting at Ayr, Coral Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow and Ascot’s Clarence House Chase day. If just those three had gone ahead the overall figure would likely have been up on 2016.”

High points were the months of June, July and August, which witnessed an overall increase to 2,617,046, compared to 2,596,002 in 2016, while the average attendance in August increased 18 per cent to 5,848.

Atkin added: “The increase in weekend crowds and over the summer is positive news and highlights the importance of holding fixtures at times when spectators can attend. Clearly we would like to see the overall number increasing and we are working hard with all racecourses.

"While we have made great strides to increase the percentage of advance ticket sales, which brings benefits to racegoers and racecourses, there is more we can do in this area.

"We're also continuing our work to improve the raceday experience for customers in order to improve retention rates and get people coming racing more often.”

As in 2016, racing remained the second largest spectator sport in Britain last year, behind football.