Racecourse Association (RCA) Chief Executive Stephen Atkin has commended racecourses for their efforts to promote racing in 2012, pointing to the rise in attendances of many of the sport's feature meetings as an indicator of its ongoing popularity.
Despite stiff competition from numerous other events such as the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and the UEFA European Championships, there were many highlights in the year. Record figures of 236,700 attended the four day Cheltenham Festival (an increase of 26,000 since 2009) and 154,000 attended the John Smith's Grand National Meeting, with the Friday and Saturday selling out.
Investec Derby Day, which launched Her Majesty The Queen's long weekend of Diamond Jubilee celebrations, welcomed the biggest single day crowd in British sport in 2012, with more than 130,000 people descending on Epsom Downs. Despite being in direct competition with the first week of the London Olympics, Glorious Goodwood saw an increase in attendance, whilst other major meetings such as The Ladbrokes St Leger Festival also saw an increase on their 2011 figures.
Terrestrial television viewing figures were very healthy in 2012. From one fixture less after the postponement of the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow Racecourse, the BBC attracted an aggregated audience of 22.2m, up 1.6m (based on average, not peak figures, which would be 34m for 2012, up by 2.8m on 2011). Channel 4's figures up to 12th December showed a 2% average audience increase for racing and a 5% average audience increase for viewing The Morning Line over the year.
The poor weather throughout the year did, however take a toll on the overall attendance figure, which fell from 6.1 million in 2011 to 5.58 million in 2012. The majority of this fall was as a direct result of abandoned race meetings. BHA figures show that 129 fixtures were lost in the year, confirmed by the Met Office as the second wettest on record; as opposed to just 21 in 2011.
The modest decrease of 2.6% average per fixture is also attributable to the particularly poor weather from April onwards which would have had significant impacts on ticket sales on the day. The figure, however, is still higher than in 2008 and 2009.
Atkin commented, 'British Racecourses are to be commended for their hard work in 2012 to promote our sport in what proved to be a difficult year with a number of challenges. As recently noted by VisitEngland, the poor weather had an impact across the leisure and tourism industries as a whole, of which racecourses are a part.'
'I am glad that racecourses were able to help attract, in some instances, record crowds to see equine stars such as Frankel light up the track despite the weather and whilst having to compete against a number of other distractions throughout the year like the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and UEFA European Championships.'
'We look forward to continuing the hard work in 2013 and facing the challenges that the year will inevitably bring'