New spectator figures take racing back to second spot in 2016
Racing reclaimed its position as the second largest spectator sport in Britain as crowds reached nearly six million in 2016 helped by a rise in rattendances at the start of the week.
Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival and the Derby meeting filled three of the top ten spots in Britain's most-attended sporting events, as racing came second to football, the Rugby World Cup in 2015 having relegated racing to third that year.
Going racing on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday proved popular in what was interpreted as an endorsement of a BHA-led drive to improve the standard of racing early in the week through boosting prize-money.
Despite a similar number of fixtures, total attendance over the first three days of the week rose for the third year running, with Mondays drawing an extra 28,211 racegoers compared with a year ago. No day of the week averaged less than 2,100.
"It's pleasing to see attendances rising on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays," said BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey. "We've been working together as an industry to create a better balance in the fixture list.
"This will continue in 2017, when we'll be seeing a further rise in the number of Sundays, Monday and Tuesdays which contain a £50,000-plus fixture."
The BHA said this year's programme will feature 39 more Sunday, Monday and Tuesday fixtures worth more than £50,000 compared with 2015.
Last year's aggregate attendance of 5,987,167 was the third highest in the past ten years and was achieved without centrally promoted campaigns for free racing and despite 19 more fixtures being lost to the weather than in 2015.
Average attendance at jumps meetings was up on 2015 as Warwick produced the biggest like-for-like percentage increase in attendances with 28 per cent growth, from 32,379 to 41,604.
At Cartmel total crowds rose by 21 per cent from 73,300 to 88,744, while Fontwell recorded an 18 per cent increase – 52,462 to 61,876.
Other highlights included a record festive period, when 204,106 people attended race meetings between December 26 and January 1, up 13.8 per cent on the previous year.
During July, attendances rose to just short of a million as 993,517 people went racing compared with 911,262 in 2015, a nine per cent increase, in a month that featured the Eclipse, July meeting, John Smith's day at York, King George meeting and Glorious Goodwood.
Racecourse Association chief executive Stephen Atkin said: "It's very pleasing to see racing return to the second most-watched sport in Britain against a backdrop of unfavourably wet weather during the first quarter and the competition of the Rio Olympic Games and Euro 2016.
"The five-year growth trajectory highlights that a day out at the races continues to increase in popularity."