Ascot’s top marketer on the challenge of being a ‘sport that isn’t tribal’

People don’t follow race horses in the same way they obsess about football or cricket so the trick for Ascot is creating experiences around each event that appeal to a wider audience.

Ascot

Royal Ascot is one of the UK’s most renowned race meetings, known as much for its extravagant hats and glamour as it is for horse racing.

Over the course of the five-day event, which this year takes place between 19 and 23 June, the racecourse welcomes more than 300,000 visitors and generates three-quarters of its annual income. It has 21 other race days throughout the year, but they attract just 300,000 visitors between them and a quarter of its overall revenue.

Therein lies the challenge. While Royal Ascot is undoubtedly the most prestigious event held at the racecourse, and the one by which it sets its standard, it only takes place a few days each year and tends to attract quite a niche audience. So the business has been steadily ramping up its offer by hosting a range of other events to widen its appeal to different customer groups.

But fighting for that share of purse is difficult, Ascot’s chief commercial officer Juliet Slot tells Marketing Week, particularly as it’s not just other sports it has to compete with.

“Most sports are quite tribal. If you follow football you go and watch your football team. If you are into cricket you’ll want to go to the one-day internationals, the Test match or you’ll follow your local county team,” she explains.

We can always attract new customers but if you can retain your customers and keep them coming back year in, year out, it’s a big tick.

Juliet Slot, Ascot

“But people don’t follow race horses so we are a sport that sits more as an entertainment experience around sport rather than having a very strong tribal following of people that come to every race meeting. That means we need to work harder to encourage people to consider us.

“We want to be famous for more than Royal Ascot,” Slot asserts.

Expanding the Ascot experience

To attract a wider audience, Ascot is building other events around the racing. Race meetings lend themselves to forming part of a wider event because the racing element can last for just 20 minutes a day, which is why Ascot hosts themed experience days such as food and wine festivals, a beer festival, a fireworks night, a Christmas shopping village and family days.

Ascot

“Racing is a whole day experience. At its heart are six or seven races per day and they don’t last more than two or three minutes so the sport element of the day is significantly less than if you were to go to the football or cricket. Visitors can therefore enjoy all the other things we can put on.”

With all of these events, value for money is key in driving people through the gates, which is why under-18s go free and there are no extra charges once people arrive, other than the food and drink they consume. So, on the family day, for example, all the rides and activities are included in the ticket price. People are also able to bring picnics to many of the race days.

We are a sport that sits more as an entertainment experience around sport rather than having a very strong tribal following.

Juliet Slot, Ascot

“We try and make it as accessible as possible, it’s really important for us as a brand. We want to make sure there is something for everybody. It’s a mantra of our CEO that everyone lives by: try and create something for everybody, at every price point and across every experience across the year.”

While the company wants to be known for more than the royal meeting, it remains an important barometer that the rest of the experiences it offers are measured by. Its brand promise is to “raise the standard” and its core brand values are to be elegant, uplifting and original, which filters down into everything it does.

“Royal Ascot is a benchmark for us across the year in how we deliver a best-in-class experience. We often trial things at other race days that we then bring to the royal meeting before taking them back out to other race days, even if it’s something as simple as a band or a piece of music.”

Making Ascot ‘something for everybody’

When it comes to measuring success, customer satisfaction, visitor numbers and spend per head are the key metrics Slot uses, as well as repeat visitors, which account for nearly 50% of its audience.

“We can always attract new customers but if you can retain your customers and keep them coming back year in, year out, it’s a big tick,” she says.

ascot

Ascot does customer research after each race day, which the marketing and operations teams “go through rigorously” to see what has worked and what hasn’t so it can be addressed for that event the following year. Quite often people will attend the same race day each year so Slot wants to make sure visitors see a constant improvement. As the audiences are quite different for each event, though, lessons from one day won’t necessarily apply to another.

“If you compare the audience from the family day to the food and wine festival to the beer festival, there are some similarities but there are also big differences, especially in terms of age and social demographic,” she explains.

“We keep all the transactional data from our ticket purchases and we analyse it for each race day. It obviously informs our marketing for the following year but it also informs the entertainment and experiences we put on. So, you wouldn’t have a festival of food and wine aimed at the 30- to 45-year-old age group and have lots of children’s food options because actually families don’t really come to that day,” she explains.

“We segment the audience opportunity based on the entertainment and experience – that gives us something for everybody.”

Understanding these audience segments and the fact retention is high also helps Ascot find the best sponsors for each event. While it has official sponsors and suppliers throughout the year, brands such as Porsche have four activations per year outside of Royal Ascot, so Slot can cherry pick the race days that will help it reach the right people.

“It means I have more opportunities to succeed against each brand’s business objectives and the brand is going to be marketing to people that will listen.”

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