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YouGov: Grand National remains a sporting highlight for public despite safety worries

In its latest exclusive column for EGR, YouGov looks at the customer acquisition opportunities for operators ahead of this weekend's prestigious race at Aintree

With another winner set to pass into Grand National folklore this weekend, it’s an appropriate time to assess how perception of the big event is holding up among the public.

YouGov data shows that while the traditional highlight of the racing year remains popular, there are certain challenges that both the industry and bookmakers could focus on.

In late February, the YouGov/SMG Insight SportsIndex Buzz score rankings underlined how perception of both the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National had improved over the past year.

Indeed, the rankings showed that that the Grand National was in fact the sporting property that had seen the greatest average improvement in its Buzz score (with a change of score of 3.8). The Epsom Derby was second most improved (with a score of 2.3), ahead of the Cheltenham Festival (2.1).

While the events have a long way to eclipse others in the overall list (for the record, the Wimbledon Championships topped the overall list), it does point to the industry promoting its centrepiece events effectively, as well as how it has been able to deal with criticism surrounding safety and ethics.

Of course, jump racing has been criticised in some quarters due to injuries to horses, which in several cases have resulted in fatalities. This year at Cheltenham, six horses died across the duration of the festival. Last year, YouGov explored this issue. We found that over half (51%) of the public felt that the Grand National was either very of fairly cruel. Notably, this is far lower among online gamblers, with just 32% of this group believing the race to be cruel.

While the immediate future of the race looks secure, and it remains a highlight of the sporting year, any increase in anti-race sentiment will worry both racing bosses and bookmakers alike. After all, the gambling industry gains so much from the event, both online and offline. For many, it may be the only time they place a bet all year. If more and more casual bettors are to be turned off from the event, the impact will be obvious.

Despite this, YouGov Omnibus data collected this week suggests that close to a quarter of the public (24%) of the public are going to bet on the race.

Of course, bookmakers put huge efforts into tempting causal or very occasional bettors during the week and day before the big race. YouGov BrandIndex data indicates that last year, close to 40% of the public saw an advert, either online, on television or in print, for the race. Ordinarily, we tend to see that sort of uplift in Ad Awareness score around Christmas time, with the traditional John Lewis advert achieving similar levels of traction.  Already this time around, the event’s Ad Awareness score has jumped by 12 points, up from 4% to 16%.

That isn’t to say the infrequent gambler doesn’t sometimes feel overwhelmed by brands’ marketing efforts. YouGov Profiles data states that 39% of those that bet online just once a year (whatever that may be for), feel bombarded by advertising. There are potential rewards for gambling brands that are able to bring a greater level of sophistication to their campaigns at this time of year.

The challenge for the event is to be seen to be modernising by those that are beginning to have misgivings about the race – and online gambling brands could play a part in this with their social strategies. For this year at least however, big gambling brands can be assured that the race remains a staple of the sports fan’s calendar.

Amelia Brophy, head of data products at YouGov

Amelia Brophy is UK head of data products at YouGov, where she has been working since January this year. Prior to joining YouGov, Brophy worked in senior research roles at companies including Nielsen, Repucom and Allianz.

Cheltenham Festival | Data | Epsom Derby | Grand National | Horseracing | YouGov

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