SBC News William Woodhams, Fitzdares: Getting Real on Racing’s Experience for Recreational Customers…

William Woodhams, Fitzdares: Getting Real on Racing’s Experience for Recreational Customers…

Across the board, betting stakeholders agree that horseracing’s offering must be redeveloped to engage with wider recreational audiences. Yet why has this simple endeavour caused such friction within betting’s value chain?

SBC speaks to Fitzdares CEO William Woodhams on racing’s structural  issues and how a collaborative approach is needed to fix a generational challenge… A key topic of discussion at the SBC Summit in Lisbon


SBC:  Hi Will, let’s begin from a bookmakers’ perspective, how important is horseracing to your business, and how does customer engagement compare with other sports?

William Woodhams: Critical… It’s about 50% of our sports business but is our true heritage and DNA. It’s very challenging at the moment with both legislation and spiralling costs to make racing work. But no truer sport represents our brand more.

SBC: Let’s shift the discussion onto your perspective as a racing enthusiast… Are racing markets really engaging with ‘recreational audiences’ – where are bookmakers falling short in their current offering?

WW: No. Racing and bookmakers are useless at this. 80% of racing funding via bookmakers comes from 3% of the customers. So we are used to high-staking punters driving the sport.

But with increased affordability checks and bookmakers unwilling to take risks with punters, football is filling the void with lower-staking recreational punters. When we look to Japan, we see a vibrant market full of stars and happy punters. I believe we need a huge rethink in the UK. 

SBC: Compared to other premium sports offered by bookmakers (football, tennis, etc) has racing become to standardised in its delivery of markets to audiences , is the market witnessing any actual innovation in the end product offered to customers?

WW: In-play racing could really help this. It’s not the answer but it will help. Also, universal access to data and streaming is critical. Thankfully we have set up The Racing App to do this in partnership with the data providers and we already have 40k active users. Giving punters all the ammunition to make an informed choice for free is the only way of engaging young people.

SBC: Analysing the value chain of betting on racing, which stakeholders are involved in delivering  innovation, and are they working effectively together to provide a better experience?  

WW: NO NO and again NO. It’s hugely fragmented value chain and there are so many interested parties that no one is taking ownership of the challenges.

Racing has come together to ward-off over-regulation on affordability, but there is so much more to do. I said on the Nick Luck show that racing is toast and I still think the hand is hovering over the bread bin. More needs to be done.  

SBC: Some observers detail that Racing simply faces a ‘generational decline’ as a heritage sports that beyond marquee events can no longer connect with wider audiences… What are your thoughts on the scepticism of Racing’s long-term future?

WW: There is a problem with Cheltenham and Ascot sucking all the oxygen out of the rest of racing but we are seeing green shoots, especially with the Dublin Racing Festival and the Fitzdares Winter Millions trying to create special moments throughout the year. Young people absolutely love going to the races but we also need to ‘price in’ older people going midweek to racecourses

SBC: Finally, what is needed for racing to revive its engagement with recreational punters and can bookmakers deliver a dynamic approach to fix current issues?

WW: I’m not sure the big bookmakers have the appetite or time to do this. Their eyes are on the US and other sports.

It’s left to brands like ours to do this. We think The Racing App will do a lot of the heavy lifting on this but it will need a joined-up approach to really tackle this issue.

People will miss racing when its gone. Our business in Ontario sees very little sports betting midday and midweek but we do see a lot of Casino business. The audience who will leave racing will move onto less engaging and glamorous wagering and surely that’s a bad thing for the UK and rural economies. 

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