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British horse racing ‘faces £500m shortfall’, 4.8m audience peak for Virtual Grand National

The loss of the Grand National, the biggest annual horse race in the UK, will leave an estimated £500m ($615m/€569m) hole in the sport.

Jockey Club Racecourses, which owns the Aintree Racecourse, home of the three-day Aintree Festival, of which the Grand National is a part, announced the cancellation of the race several weeks ago when the British Horseracing Authority shut down all racing in the UK in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Losses to Aintree Racecourse itself and the wider local economy due to the cancellation of the three-day event, which is usually attended by 65,000 people, are likely to amount to over £60m, with only a fraction of the costs, such as ticket refunds, covered by insurance.

The biggest shortfall, however, will fall on the bookmaking industry, who are likely to not only miss out on £400m worth of turnover in bets placed, but also a key opportunity for attracting new customers.

Unlike its Irish counterpart, which is hoping to reschedule the Irish Grand National for later in the year to make up for the loss of income, Jockey Club Racecourses has outright cancelled the Grand National and is not expected to move the meet.

In place of this year’s Grand National on Saturday, British broadcaster ITV aired a virtual version of the race, which was watched by a peak of 4.8 million people.

While the figure was half the peak of 9.6 million who watched the Grand National live on ITV in 2019, it marked a significant increase on the 737,000 who watched the Virtual Grand National 12 months earlier, and on the usual audience figures for horse racing on ITV. Last year’s Derby, for instance, was watched by 1.75 million.

An average of 4.3 million viewers watched the 30-minute Virtual Grand National programme on ITV on Saturday at 5pm (BST). The average for the (longer) Grand National programme last year was 5.4 million, equal to a 39-per-cent market share.