Cheltenham Racecourse is affectionately known across the sporting landscape as the ‘Home of Jump Racing’, the central hub to which the sport orbits around. Sitting at the heart of that nucleus is The Cheltenham Festival™ presented by Magners, taking place in March (10th – 13th), which features the big ticket Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The Racecourse, and its eponymous Festival, are an integral part of British sporting heritage and have welcomed some of the most traditionally famous faces over the years, including the Royal Family. But the world of sport is changing and across the spectrum, revolution is taking place.
In both cricket and rugby, despite impressive World Cup campaigns for both men’s teams, the Hundred and Rugby X respectively are emerging. Their ultimate aim: attract younger, digitally-native audiences that haven’t grown up with the traditional game on their screens.
How then, does horseracing do the same?
“It’s not necessarily about the sponsorship on screen, or how people watch the sport, when it comes to horseracing,” says Carey Weeks, Regional Head of Partnerships for the South West at the Jockey Club.
“It’s much more about the experience on the day, and that is where we are really looking to innovate.”
Where other sports are looking to uproot their rules, playing arenas, or presentation, Cheltenham is looking more towards the fan experience – letting the horseracing speak for itself on the course.
To do so, and brand new for 2020, is The Park – an innovative area of the event that offers day-long live music plus acts from top DJ’s, street food and a Ferris wheel. Open to sponsors of all categories, The Park is set to cater to not only a new type of horseracing fan but also the existing racegoers, and has been created to satisfy the rapidly changing habits of consumption within sport.
“We’re really excited to see what sponsors can come up with in The Park,” adds Weeks, “there isn’t a hard and fast formula that we’re going to ask they stick to.”
“We love the idea of brands coming up with ideas that have never been seen before, be it in horseracing or anywhere else in sport. Together, we can grow with them. It’ll be a really captivated audience, ready to experience brands in a new way, and we’re so interested in having those conversations and seeing where we can take it.
"It’s an opportunity to innovate on a blank slate that is scarcely available in the world of sport, let alone horseracing, and an exciting prospect for any brand to get involved with."
With long-term partner Magners already involved and with plenty of plans in store, the area looks set to be a hub of sponsorship imagination, but who is The Park ultimately targeted towards?
The Park is designed to offer a spatial home for not only the younger audiences but other racegoers looking for a different experience, and for Weeks, this was a critical driver behind setting it up. In doing so, Cheltenham are creating a pathway for new fans to engage with the sport and, ultimately, become a long-term engaged fan.
“For this year, our membership between the ages of 18 and 28 has gone through the roof – it’s staggering – so we have a huge group that is really interested in horseracing and attending our event, but we want to make sure they have an area that suits their needs and can offer a truly authentic brand experience. We have introduced the ‘Love Ireland’ bar in The Park for our 18-28 members which is exclusive for them.
“We are aware that we’re not a summer festival but instead the home of jump racing offering an extraordinary four days of first class racing. We want to create an area that people might not expect from traditional horseracing, nothing too corporate – but a must see destination.
“It’s going to be incredibly ‘Instagram-able’. There will be celebrities there, and we have the likes of Nick Grimshaw and Laura Whitmore DJ’ing plus two other acts who will be announced shortly. They will start playing at 4.30pm after the feature race each day but as ever the main focus for the day will the racing.”
“We’re really conscious of the customer journey, and ensuring that we have something for everyone. We’re a bucket list-event, so we need to make sure that everyone has a separate but incredible experience, and as we grow in popularity we need more spaces to suit more people – with different tastes and desires."
Cheltenham, though, remains one of the more prestigious racecourses in the UK, and though The Park caters to younger fans, its traditionalists still attend in their droves. They’re a key audience and one that The Jockey Club cannot afford to ignore or upset.
How then will the experience be balanced for both?
“It’s about complementing each other,” says Weeks.
“We’ve thought about this a lot – how The Park is positioned within the wider event. We’re aiming for it to be an area that is set back from the racecourse and allows racegoers to move freely around so for those who don’t want to be part of The Park, their day will not be effected but all the activity.
“It’s one part of our overall experience. You can either pay £15 in advance - £25 on the day if tickets are still available - and have an incredible experience or pay over £1,000 in one of our exclusive hospitality areas. Whatever you pay, we can offer you an experience like no other at our four day Festival.”
The Park looks set to bring a new dynamic to Cheltenham moving forward – a fresh-faced area of excitement, creativity and youth culture. It’s a new opportunity, and it’s true, ultimate success will be built upon the innovation of the partners that seize the chance.