• Bringing purpose to the customer experience

    Lessons learned at the 2019 Irish Racecourse Seminar

    How often have you heard from a successful business owner, leader, elite athlete or coach on how they excel in their field and thought … ‘that is so simple’ or ‘that is common sense’ … yet why is it such common sense is not that common!? 

    Last week in the Lyrath Hotel in Kilkenny representatives of all 26 Irish racecourses gathered for an annual seminar entitled ‘Growing Irish Racing Together’. Although focused on the key issues facing racecourses in growing attendances and enhancing the race day experience, the take-aways from the day are equally applicable to any sports or entertainment venue.  

    What gets measured gets done

    There is a lot to be excited about in Irish racing right now. Our horses, jockeys, trainers, owners and breeders are revered for the scale of their achievements in a global sport and industry. Of course there are challenges, not least Brexit, but there is a lot to be enthusiastic about as we look to the next five years. From a commercial and marketing perspective Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for nurturing the brand of Irish racing, telling the story, maximising Irish racing’s reach and collaborating with all Irish racecourses in driving ever higher attendances and experiences around our sport. Over the next five years HRI have set out ambitious growth targets: 

    • 1.Increase the profile of Irish racing among the general population. We’ll do that by increasing interest levels in the general population – currently 24% of Irish people have an interest in racing; we will raise that to a minimum of 30% within 5 years. That equates to another c. 290,000 people.
    • 2.Enhance the experience of going racing. Working in collaboration with racecourses we will ensure customer experience is a core metric of success for all race days in the future.
    • 3.Grow attendances from 1.3m per annum to 1.5m per annum within five years. Optimising the customer journey to purchase tickets on the back of increased profile of our sport and enhanced experience of going racing will no doubt produce higher attendances and higher revenues.

    These strategic priorities (and metrics) formed the context of the racecourse seminar and influenced the agenda, theme and speakers we chose for the event. Here are the key take-outs from those key note speakers:  

    Hamilton Racecourse – ‘Being the Best We Can Be’

    Hamilton Park CEO Vivien Currie and Operations Manager John Currie kicked off the day with impactful and insightful presentation on the secret formula behind their achievement in being named Racecourse of the Year in the UK 2018. Except of course there is no secret formula … simply a customer-centric commercial strategy built on solid principles. 

    Here is a racecourse run as a business first and foremost. There is a clear understanding of the four core target markets in attendance (general admission / hospitality customers / owners & trainers / sponsors) and there is a strategy for maximising the race day experience for each individual target market. Hamilton Park demonstrated a clear understanding of the needs of these very different customer groups but what is common across the board is outstanding attention to detail and a willingness to allocate the right resource to managing these customers (‘aces in spaces’ as Vivien put it); I particularly liked the idea of a employing a maitre d for the Owners & Trainers restaurant. As a critical stakeholder in race day and fundamental to the long term growth of our sport it is critical that Owners & Trainers have the best possible experience. Two Circles were referenced a number of times by Hamilton Park in assisting them put in place a coherent customer sales strategy and align digital and marketing investment to maximise ticket sales … 

    Data Driven Sport

    So it was only fitting that we brought in Max Dickman & Michael White of Two Circles to elaborate further on the essence of ‘data driven sport’ for racecourses. Irish racecourses on average have some ground to make up on other major sports venues when it comes to advance sales as a percentage of total attendances. It is a critically important objective for us all to change that ratio significantly in the coming years. A pilot project run with Two Circles around the Longines Irish Champions Weekend in 2018 demonstrated the impact such a strategy can have on marketing investment, digital engagement and ultimately attendances. Golden rules gleaned from this pilot project included: 

    • Earlier is bigger: kick starting the sales curve earlier works!
    • More accurate predictor of attendance is possible
    • Mitigate the uncontrollable (such as weather)
    • Gets money in the bank earlier
    • Significantly amplifies awareness through word of mouth
    • Opportunity to upsell other tickets / experiences
    • Helps all future races / fixtures as you grow customer database

    The far reaching impact of getting ticketing right is obvious. It drives better practices in pricing, understanding your value proposition, marketing, sales and digital engagement and customer experiences. 

    Give People Purpose

    Continuing on the theme of understanding how to deliver a great customer experience to different customer types, Matt Lynch of Moonshot really impressed on the audience how front line staff have enormous responsibility for delivering on experience. Drawing on experiences in Disney, Atlanta Braves, Wembley and many others Matt discussed the value of giving these front line staff ‘purpose’ in their role … there is a big difference between role (security guard at venue entrance) to purpose (ensure racegoers go home happy). How many times have we said or heard ‘I need 5 bodies …’ for a particular purpose on match day / race day … if we are giving people purpose then we need a lot more than bodies!  

    Wrapping up the day and bringing his own fascinating insight into the role of purpose in a high-performance sport setting, Gary Keegan shared the journey of the Irish boxers from humble beginnings to Olympic glory. Setting the vision, committing to delivering it (‘’intention drives attention’’) and attention to detail in your preparation are equally applicable to the Olympic athlete as they are to a sporting or entertainment venue and tied neatly back to the presentations throughout the day. 

    Paul Dermody | Commercial and Marketing Director at Horse Racing Ireland
    Published: 31st January 2019