Sky Sports Racing launched its own channel in January and Gambling Insider caught up with At The Races CEO, Matthew Imi, for an update on the progress it has made seven months down the line.
Since launching in January, has Sky Sports Racing exceeded expectations? What was SSR expecting and have viewing figures been better or worse than anticipated?
From a production and coverage perspective, we’re delighted with how the first eight months have gone. Some of the new tools we’ve introduced, and are continually evolving, are improved graphics, additional cameras, super slo-mo shots, and at least one presenter at every UK fixture. We’ve had very positive feedback from viewers citing the improved insight and access to what’s going on at the track, particularly with regards to allowing more time for our expert presenters to deliver more in-depth analysis and reporting.
In terms of programming, we’ve been fortunate enough to cover some fantastic international racing exclusively such as the Kentucky Derby, Pegasus World Cup, Prix de Diane and Prix du Jockey Club; as well as some of the UK’s best meetings including the Boodles May Festival and Royal Ascot.
We’re attracting more viewers to the channel and our monthly reach is up to the two million mark. Our focus from the outset was to create outstanding content while letting our marketing and cross-promotional opportunities on Sky draw in viewers; and this remains our objective.
What are SSR plans for the rest of 2019 and the beginning of 2020?
Some of the world’s biggest races take place between now and the end of the year and we’re very fortunate many of them will be shown live on Sky Sports Racing. The Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe will see Frankie Dettori and Enable going for an unprecedented third success in the race. We’ve got the Breeders’ Cup in California closely followed by Australia’s Melbourne Cup, and a wealth of Hong Kong racing including the Longines Hong Kong Cup in December.
There are so many highlights at home as well and it’s hard to mention them all; but we’ve got the William Hill St Leger meeting and the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster. At Ascot we’re hoping to see Altior run in the 1965 chase in November and Chepstow’s Coral Welsh Grand National on 27 December is one my favourite fixtures and a great way to round off the year.
Has horseracing as a whole been successful in increasing its audience, especially with the 18-25 demographic?
While there are always improvements to be made, racing has made solid strides in raising its appeal by improving its storytelling both from a racing and calendar perspective and increasing the profile of its biggest stars. The music nights and additional entertainment that racecourse has put on have been successful in attracting a new audience and I read last year the average age of a racegoer was 45 against a national sporting average of 47, with 44% of all racegoers being classified as millennials.
There are excellent initiatives out there with many racecourses offering membership programmes for the younger generations, as well as offering free racing for those aged under 18. I think sometimes racing is a bit hard on itself when reviewing its demographic makeup. As well as being fast and physical it’s a nuanced and intricate sport, which can be appreciated on a number of different levels. The important thing is the sport works together to ensure it’s resonating with the public on a regular basis, and not just around the flagship events like Royal Ascot.
The Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot were largely successful days for the punter, rather than the bookies. Is this classed as a success for the industry?
I think the racing industry as a whole would deem any day when racing fans enjoy themselves and come away with a positive feeling as a success! Ultimately we all benefit from more people enjoying and following the sport.