Taking the turf to the streets – will Channel 4’s approach bring more spectators to racing?

By on Friday, March 22, 2013


Will Channel 4’s approach bring more spectators to racing?

I had my first fall from a horse in 1976. OK, so it was a rocking horse, not the real thing. And I was three years old. But my passion for all things equine started at an early age and has never diminished.

Both my grandfathers liked a bet and I was quick to follow their lead. I had my first flutter on The Grand National in 1982 – 10p each way on Grittar. He won at 7-1. I pocketed my 90p winnings and was hooked.

I’ve not missed a Grand National since, so was champing at the bit to see Channel 4 Racing’s new trailer for the race – unveiled on March 19.
Promoting a promotion is an odd task but Channel 4 Racing’s team used all the channels at their disposal to build up an atmosphere around the launch.

Channel 4 secured the rights to racing coverage in the UK from 2013, snatching the big name races and big name broadcasters from the BBC.

Last year’s race pulled in around 10m viewers in the UK – not bad for a race that only lasts 10 minutes.

Of course it’s a controversial 10minutes – with some arguing the gory overshadows the glory. But for many, it’s the only horse race they’ll ever watch. And these are the viewers Channel 4 is courting.

Channel 4 has been a major supporter of horse racing since 1984 and has invested heavily to promote its coverage of this year’s big race. And its first job is to attract the purists as well as the tourists.

Viewing figures for jump racing’s annual ‘Olympics’ – the Cheltenham Festival- were down this year. But with the retirement of superstar Kauto Star, injuries to Big Buck’s and no obvious showdown or spectacle in prospect maybe this should not be a surprise.

So Channel 4 is taking no chances with the Grand National. Its multi-channel approach to promoting the race has attempted to reach out beyond traditional racing fans – taking racing to the streets – and on line.

Sneak previews and behind the scenes clips of the Grand National promos started to appear across social media as Cheltenham coverage ended.
By the time the actual ad was aired on March 19, simultaneously across all Channel 4 platforms, there was a ready audience for it.

Billed as ‘Street Race’ the trailer cleverly features horses and riders racing across Liverpool parks and along roads, jumping garden hedges and splashing through duck ponds.

Shot on location in the city, details of the shoot and advance images were tweeted on the day of filming by the Channel 4 team, using the hashtag #c4streetrace

The social media build up continued – although Channel 4 Racing’s Facebook page isn’t as popular as its Twitter stream.

By today (March 21) the Grand National trailer has received 16,365 views – nearly two and a half times the number who have watched Bob’s Worth claim this year’s Gold Cup.

A quick scan of Tweetreach shows 208662 accounts reached by 50 tweets using the hashtag #c4streetrace

The racing industry (or more accurately, the gambling industry) was quick to go online to attract punters so it’s no surprise to see a TV company take to the web to promote its first-time coverage of a major sporting event.

We’ll know how well they did on Saturday 6 April. I for one will be glued – riding every stride and bawling my eyes out in admiration for whoever passes the post first. Let’s hope the sport of racing also finds its way to the winners’ enclosure.

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