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Cup Day is back in full swing, but what's changed?

Anneliese Raftis

1 Nov 2022

MKTG Sports & Entertainment's newly appointed Strategy Manager shares insights ahead of Cup Day

With sports fans returning en masse to cheer on their teams this year across Australia, will we see the same enthusiasm and excitement from punters flocking back to the track for the world-famous Melbourne Cup?

Those in the know suggest they will, pending, of course, any further La Niña disruptions. 

Every year, millions of Australians watch the Melbourne Cup. It is the horse race that 'stops a nation'. This year, we've found a palpable sense of anticipation and pride amongst Victorians.

From the scent of roses and fresh grass clippings in the air, to form guides mapped out and filled with ink and suits and dresses rediscovered from the depth of wardrobes. Today brings a return to racing's headquarters and awaits a day of colour, fashion, culture, and tradition, not to mention the best equine racing Australia has to offer. 

With turnstiles poised, pandemic restrictions lifted, and lost time to make up for with family and friends, there is one question: Will the Melbourne Cup Carnival return to record crowds of over 100,000?

We at MKTG Sports + Entertainment are hopeful and thrilled to partner with Victoria Racing Club (VRC) to deliver a memorable 2022 Melbourne Cup Carnival.

With this partnership offering more profound insight into the competition, we look closely at horse racing fans: Who are they? How do they shape up? And what's their general feeling ahead of the big day? 

Gaining younger fanfare

In recent years, VRC has invested vast amounts in improving the race day experience to compete with what is available in sporting and leisure venues to attract Gen Z and Millennials. While racing is typically known to have older fans, the make-up of Australian racing crowds is getting younger, according to the latest research released by YouGov.

This shift is driven by impressive engagement and attendance numbers among the younger generation aged 18-29, who are now responsible for 1 in 5 horse racing attendees. This number grows a further 28% to include any adult under 45.

Cup Carnival is about more than the races

Nationally, over 830,000 adults say they attend horse races, with only about a quarter of them rating it as their favourite sport. This places it among the top 4 sports regarding the number of casual live spectators behind AFL and Cricket. A significant 1.7 million adults also say they watch or actively follow horse racing on TV.

Most respondents who attend or would consider attending horse racing are motivated by the opportunity for atmosphere and social interaction rather than the opportunity to watch the racing itself. Thus, spectatorship and event experience will remain at the forefront for Cup Carnival and other live events that return to the calendar. 

From racetracks to runways 

Fashion is another crucial draw of the Carnival. According to Roy Morgan, consumer retail spending for Spring Racing reached $1.6 billion this year as people invested in new fashion and accessories. Compared to the average, zillennials stand out for buying the most shoes, race outfits, and accessories. Fashion competitions like Fashions on The Field will continue to entice racegoers to show off their curated looks and build content momentum, especially amongst the younger fans.

Viewers are still interested in long-form content 

Among racing fans, live coverage beats short highlights (74% vs. 55%), and while this gap is more prevalent among older consumers, 18-29s still adhere to this trend.

For brands, this is not a case of choosing one format over the other; both are still viable. Apps and social media are also vital media channels for sport consumption and trends around the day, such as fashion, especially for top fans (45%). 

Rain or more rain, Cup Day goes on

Punters face a Tuesday washout with torrential rain and storms. With almost 1 in 3 attendees citing poor weather conditions as a barrier to attending, will this year's Cup Carnival be as miserable as the weather? Unlikely. Fans anticipate celebration indoors or out. "I'm keen to enjoy the day off with my friends, whether it's from the grandstand or on TV" (Male 18-29). Cup Day broadcast drew in over 1.2m metro viewers last year, and as Australians aspire to inject celebration into their lives, many are likely to watch the race day with a cheerful spirit.

Key takeaways 

Brands intent on reaching racing fans need to pay attention to what we have learned this past year; Cup Day is about the allure and spectatorship - especially for younger punters. Fashion at the event appeals to a broader audience. It amplifies content moments, short clips, and highlights that haven't overtaken the preference for long-form content, but social is essential for super engaging fans.

With weather conditions pending, we expect brands to find ways to amplify Australians' at-home celebrations.

Acknowledging this, brands that create targeted, meaningful, campaigns and that adapt to industry changes will genuinely separate the champions from the runners-up.

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