Like many sports, horse racing has had a turbulent couple of years financially, but one of the biggest hurdles it must now clear is broadening its audience of bettors.
Attendance rates in long-established horse racing markets such as the UK are falling, and many younger punters are being increasingly drawn to the appeal of markets such as football with flashy betbuilders and stats wagering options.
Addressing how global pool betting operators can continue to support and expand the sport of horse racing, as well as maintain bettor interest in such products, a panel of experts sat down to share their experiences in London’s Leadenhall Building at the WoTA Forum 2022.
The significance of short form entertainment
Sports marketing agency Pitch International is a global business with a wide footprint, experience which was leveraged by its Executive Chairman Oliver Slipper – also Founder of PickGuru and a former Non Executive Director of DAZN Group – outlined his views at the discussion in central London.
Slipper noted that the focus for many customers in betting shops has now shifted form the traditional horse racing product to football, which delivers a ‘short entertainment content’.
“Horse racing has an issue with this, the younger generation prefer the football accumulator to horse racing – but there’s excitement from a horse race that’s nothing like it,” he remarked.
“Horse racing has to work out how it can create this short form of fun content to get people in there and drive people to their bets.”
Jamie Hart, the UK Tote Group’s B2C and Liquidity Director, shared this viewpoint, adding that people are increasingly looking for a ‘socially competitive gaming experience’ as opposed to simply having a bet.
Commenting on horse racing from the perspective of tote betting operators, he asserted that firms need to recognise where customer demand is heading, summarising ‘It’s not about what the tote wants, it’s about what the customer wants’.
“The language needs to change a lot for new customers,” he remarked. “If we’re talking about beyond 2040, we’re talking about people who are 15-30 now, and you have to talk to them in a very different way.”
Simplicity is the key, he continued – the ultimate way for horse racing to maximise its appeal to a wider pool of bettors is to promote a ‘socially competitive gaming experience’, which ultimately is what the Tote’s Placepot product is.
“People know how much money they want to spend, and they know they want to be entertained with their friends,” he added. “If you look at fantasy football in the US, it’s a pool, and I think you’ll see a lot more of the blended stuff that has to be wrapped up like a fantasy bet.
“People will be putting in £5 or £10 and getting that entertainment experience, but the notifications will have to be slick.”
Concluding his opening comments, Hart agreed with a similar sentiment shared at a previous panel at the WoTA Forum – that horse racing and tote betting must react to its customers requirements, saying: “It’s not what the Tote wants, it’s about what the customer wants.”
Finding common ground with Hart, Kambi’s Head of UK and International Sports, Ryan Hughes, argued that there are lessons horse racing and its associated betting products could learn from US fantasy sports.
This was not Hughes’ only observation gleaned from his experience of B2B sportsbook operations, with his major focal point being that ‘combinability is the key’, whilst highlighting the importance of data in modern betting markets.
Emergence of rich data is key here,” he said. “We are seeing product playing catch up with the data, we are already seeing rich data impacting how players bet now. So you have instant betting, the quick transition from bet placement right through to settlement.
“The other is around player performance based data, and betting on that. That’s very much out of fantasy sports, and is particularly prevalent in the US where we have end users choosing players and supporting players from other teams.
“I’m interested in enhanced performance data, which provides insights on striker frequency, which could help horse racing move into the live space.”
In addition to fantasy sports, Hughes was also quizzed by the moderator about what horse racing could learn from one of the unlikeliest of sectors – the emerging space of esports, perhaps the modern antithesis to the traditional Sport of Kings.
In particular, esports has harnessed new technologies and trends such as streaming and virtual reality, a market which Hughes believes should be leveraged quickly by the old school of sports.
“You see lots of social streaming, and I think we need to address that market early,” he said. “The reality is that the younger generation will grow up watching esports as opposed to Man United and LIverpool. It’s very much about addressing that market.
“In terms of VR, I think it’s super interesting from a sports betting proposition perspective, especially racing. To be able to sit in the hot seat of a jockey, we’ve all been armchair jockeys at some point – and making that betting proposition through the eyes of a jockey would be fantastic.”
Meanwhile, Tuncel Aydin, General Manager of the Jockey Club of Turkey, outlined his view that racing could learn from other mainstream sports such as football.
The team format is now nothing new to racing, best envisioned by the launch of the Racing League in the UK, but it has failed to catch on with traditional audiences.
Aydin summarised: “In sports you have rivalries, and want to create rivalries in horse racing e.g. have jockeys from each country and create a world jockey championship, with international races with runners from different countries. This may make punters bet like it’s a national game, and create excitement.”
The race to the metaverse
On the topic of emerging tech, Slipper found common ground with Aydin, on the topic of the metaverse and social media, implying attendees to look to the algorithms used by platforms such as TikTok.
“Gambling might want to learn from this, if an 18 year old who goes to look at a gambling website for the first time, there’s information overload,” he added.
Aydin shared his view that gaming and igaming are the ‘future’ of younger generation’s entertainment focus, as is the metaverse, which is increasingly linked to the former sectors and to this demographic.
“If you are not part of the future you will be part of the past, and the metaverse is the future,” he asserted.
“Horse racing should meet the metaverse, as the young generation we want to cater to will be in the metaverse in the coming years.”
Lastly, Hart also addressed how racing can better interact with traditional media, whilst also touching on another emerging technology becoming increasingly connected to betting and gaming – open banking.
Lauding the ‘amazing’ job done by ITV in managing, promoting and delivering its horse racing coverage, Hart emphasised the importance of talent selection in appealing to new audiences.
“Broadcasting and betting have to work together, and over time we’ll see the two industries become more aligned and join its about talent selection and getting people who will resonate with that new generation of gamblers.”
On the latter topic, he further noted that open banking is rising in use among younger consumers – 5% of people in their 40s will use it, 75% of people in their 20s will use it, he estimated – but was hesitant to make bold predictions about its interactions with betting.
“I’m not sure it will play a big role in people’s bet, but it will play a part in thow the industry solves the affordability issue.
“The industry is going to move to be one of high volume, low stakes, recreational style gambling, as it’s difficult to place a big bet now without giving a lot of personal information.”
This closing remark brought the discussion back full circle to a remark made by Hart towards the start of the discussion.
He said: “We’re under so much pressure with affordability, we’ve got to be playing the small stake-win big market, where it’s safer and more socially acceptable, and the tote is perfectly placed for that.”