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The Numbers Game: Big Data and the Business of Sport | Big data strategy – Case study 1: Horseracing becomes a data-driven sport

In 2015, British horseracing set out to become a data-driven sport to achieve its ambition of growing attendances from six million to seven million by 2020.

“It’s about a step change in our thinking. If we carry on as we are, we will continue to do well with some incremental growth, but to shift from six million to seven million – that needs some big changes in our behaviours and attitudes and we go about things.

“Sport tends to make decisions based on anecdotal evidence. We need to learn to plan through insight rather than instinct, and we think this process is how we will achieve that.” Rod Street, Chief Executive, Racing Enterprises Limited

The year-long project, run with the data-driven agency Two Circles, involves the sport’s biggest ever analysis of consumer data, and is split into three phases:

• Engage: securing the buy-in of racecourses across the country

• Discover: capturing, integrating and analysing the courses’ consumer data

• Act: identifying new opportunities for attendance growth and creating new processes to increase the value of data capture.

The engage element of the project is very much about involving people across the entire organisation – or in this case, sport – to ensure not just understanding and acceptance of strategy, but to offer a tangible stake in its development and a measurable share of its rewards.

“All 58 tracks have agreed to participate, which is unprecedented and a major leap forward; individual racecourses are very protective of their own consumer data and will very often actually consider each other as competitors.

“It’s all being managed in a confidential way with the sport able to look at the aggregated, anonymised data, and give the courses a much clearer idea of who racing’s customers are and how they can reach them more effectively.” Rod Street

The same idea is also central to the ‘act’ strand of the process, which enables disparate departments – racecourses – to learn from each other and adopt best practice, as determined by quantifiable measures of success.

“A lot of courses are doing a lot of different things well, but we have not come up with a more central strategy that all courses can apply for collecting data. Chester is one course that runs a lot of really good initiatives on racedays to encourage consumer interaction that captures data, and Ascot and Cheltenham have introduced free Wi-Fi, which you have to share an e-mail address to log on to.” Rod Street


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