The Racecourse Association (RCA) says attendances across Britain’s racecourses rose by 5.3 per cent in 2015 to exceed the six million mark for the first time since 2011.
And Sussex courses have played their part in the success.
Total attendances across Britain’s 59 racecourses reached 6,129,433 in 2015 which was 309,463 more than 2014 and just 21,810 short of the 2011 record (6,151,243).
Average attendances also rose to 4,256 per fixture, a 4.4 per cent increase on the 2014 figure of 4,076. This is the highest average attendance since 2007 (4,376).
Last year was the third year in a row that attendances have risen, highlighting the growing popularity of racing as a sport as well as a social event, with many racecourses offering a broad range of entertainment and free entry for under-16s.
Goodwood racecourse saw a record attendance for its five-day summer festvial - which in 2015 for the first time was the Qatar Goodwood Festival - and Fontwell, plumpton, Brighton and, on the Sussex-Surrey border, Lingfield have all had some bumper days in the past 12 months.
Stephen Atkin, Chief Executive of the RCA, said: “It is once again very pleasing to see a significant rise in the total and average attendance at racecourses in 2015. It was a particularly competitive year with the Rugby World Cup and The Ashes, so it is extremely gratifying for racing to have increased its attendance figures and perform well against other sports.
“It is reward for the hard work put in by racecourse teams across the country and the vital contribution by horsemen, the BHA and Great British Racing. It also reflects the very substantial investment by racecourses in customer facilities and other infrastructure. This growth is vital in creating an environment to justify further investment, planned and prospective.
“The figures highlight the huge popularity of racing in Britain and the importance of each and every racecourse to its community. As highlighted by the 2015 RCA Showcase & Awards, racecourses do a huge amount of work to attract customers and promote racing which in turn helps to boost local economies. All of them deserve enormous credit for helping us to hit the six million mark.
“Looking forward, 2016 will bring with it a unique set of opportunities and challenges for racecourses with the Queen’s 90th birthday and the crowning of a new Champion Jump Jockey for the first time in 20 years. There is also significant Home Nation involvement in Euro 2016 and the Rio Olympics.
“There is a huge amount to build on and we will hopefully see further growth this year. As racecourses benefit from the Insight=Growth project their hard work and excellent marketing campaigns will hopefully result in more advance purchases being made, which has proven to result in larger attendances. It is also incredibly important to make sure first time race goers become return customers, and the outstanding value for money and entertainment that racecourses provide will hopefully ensure this.”
Rod Street, Chief Executive of Great British Racing, said: “It is very pleasing to see this level of growth in attendances over the course of 2015 and not just at the larger festivals. Some of the smaller racecourses have grown their fixtures significantly which have contributed towards the overall five per cent increase.
“The work which has been done around the Insight=Growth project in 2015 means we know so much more about our customers and their reasons for going racing. All racecourses are now armed with those findings in order to help maintain this level of growth in 2016.
“We know, for example, that horseracing, in various ways, reaches over 30 million people, who don’t currently come racing. That presents an opportunity for growth and we look forward to working with the racecourses to convert some of that number into new attendees.”
The RCA believe it is impossible to attribute the rise to any one factor, with RCA Showcase Champions York being a prime example as 13 of its 17 race days saw increased attendances. Smarter marketing alongside data driven insight, intelligent use of social media and strong campaigns such as the Rewards4Racing loyalty scheme all played significant roles.