I’ve often wondered why betting brands haven’t adopted Eventing and other equestrian sports that achieve TV coverage. Niche market it may be, but at its zenith around the big events, it attracts a sizeable international audience, and our big events in the UK attract significant enough crowds to make a pop-up betting shop more than worthwhile.
The convoluted scoring system is exactly what punters like to make in-running bets, even if it’s something the rest of the crowd rarely understands. Look at how Betfair has transformed betting on racing, introducing a new range of betting opportunities, whilst also appealing to a younger audience. Novelty bets – how many fallers at the Badminton Lake for example – could engage any audience very readily, even more so younger occasional visitors.
Whereas presently, if you were to track your previous bets on eventing, I doubt you’d need more than the fingers of one hand to count the best you’ve made.
Notwithstanding this, the demographic of the eventing crowd is generally well disposed toward other horse sports too, and so could readily be migrated to horseracing or cricket betting. A temporary betting shop at Badminton could lure spectators interested in the Guineas the same weekend, as well as football.
The archetypal betting shop customer wouldn’t on the face of it have much in common with the Hunter welly-clad set following eventing. However, the nature of the betting market has also changed these past 25 years. The Andy Capp caricature has been replaced by the laddish culture of Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, the same young men who don their tweed to visit the Cheltenham Festival. I can see that crowd exercising that tweed on a second outing to Badminton or Burghley.
Perhaps, the reality of the lack of a betting market is a little simpler. The marketing departments of mainstream bookmakers tend to be populated by young men and women for whom equestrian sport is simply not on their radar. After all, the eventing crowd tends to compromise those who’ve grown up around horses. If you’ve not ridden yourself, then the sport has a lesser appeal. By contrast, Racing has always been the core sport of bookmakers, so is part of the wallpaper, whereas this is not the case with other equestrian competition.
The emergence of a new clutch of betting brands, often backed with South East Asian money, offers a chance to reset the dial, and bring brands into the sport that have mass mainstream appeal and can convert passing trade into a broader non-participative fanbase. And Eventing is a sport where the quintessential Britishness of the sport (even though invented by the French) is an aspirant quality that could appeal in Asia.
Of course, eventing chiefs might understandably want to retain the premium brand feel to top class eventing that accompanies sponsorships by Longines, Rolex and Land Rover. But this narrow market of luxury brands also limits the growth of the sport at a time when participation has rarely been as strong, but where the number of viable 4* events able to charge spectators a sensible admission fee is on the fingers of little more than one hand. Broadening that appeal through more mainstream brands must surely resonate.