What do you think of when you hear the words "a UK horse race"? I think of big fields, and being able to bet a horse with a decent shot at 6-1. Maybe you do, too.
For what seems like forever, the UK racing product's space in the market was win betting - whether at a bookmaker or exchange. When you picked up a book like the excellent Dave Nevison's No Easy Money you read about his replay watching and his "tissues", where he would be focusing on one thing and one thing only: Win betting. No exactas, or scoop sixes, nothing of the sort. 500, 1000, 2000, on the nose please.
If you study marketing, you learn that being first in a prospects mind is most important. For others, doing what you do best very well, is a way to stand out in a crowded market. For horse racing, slices, not the mass market is most important, simply because of the variety of gambling games offered, especially in Europe. Horse racing will not outcasino a casino. The UK racing fixtures, with win betting and big fields, with low juice, were a big winner for that sport. It was first in any racing prospects mind, had been for generations, and offered gamblers a solid product to bet on.
Since then, these very things that make UK racing UK racing, are being attacked. And it is not going well.
The pink line is the UK. On the left, the number of races have grown fairly dramatically, on the right, we can see the quality of these races were poor, where average wagered per race sunk like a stone. Field size - a big draw for bettors - was close to 12 horses per race in 2001. In 2012, it was a shade over nine.
Fewer racedates does not automatically mean lower handles (don't let the US racing media tell you this; Australia cut dates and increased handle in 2007 and Canadian harness racing is in year two of the same thing. It's used as an excuse in North America) . Conversely, more races does not mean higher handles. The UK proves the latter; handle has been down and continues to be.
What is bothering the UK is the same thing spoken about regarding the NFL and horse racing in the TDN this weekend. They have lost their way. They are in the process of losing their entire edge with customers. The UK does not need to diversify into exotics like they have, nor do they have to keep expanding their offerings. They need to remember who they are in the prospects mind.
In the 1950's Pepsi was getting slaughtered by Coke, earning less than 20% of the entire share. There was not much they could do, so they thought, but they developed a new strategy. This entailed not going after coke but going after a slice of the market - teenagers. This strategy began to work, and using 80's pop icons like Michael Jackson it continued. After one generation (no pun intended) Pepsi closed the gap where coke's market share was only 10% more than Pepsi's. At that time Pepsi pivoted again, going after the mass market. That backfired.
It's this writers opinion that if UK horse racing wants to earn back gambler market share, they have to return to what they were best at. They're not going to win trying to sell higher rake exotics. They're not going to win racing more races with shorter fields. They're going to win being the best at what they've always been best at: Win markets, low rake, and big fields.
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