Talking Brands: Horse racing has a huge following, but does it have the legs to make it in licensing?

SGLP’s Simon Gresswell looks at whether the world of horse racing has untapped potential in licensing, and gets the thoughts of The Point. 1888’s Hannah Stevens and KJG’s Kirsty Guthrie on the subject.

Horse racing is a valuable sport in the UK worth billions and boasting a massive following, but prize money, off-course betting and attendance have all fallen in recent years.

Excluding Ascot and Royal Ascot – as licensing for these has already been developed over the last five years by IMG – do famous racecourses, race meetings and racing stable brands have new or incremental licensing opportunities and if so into what categories?

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
As an inexpert punter, horse racing has made a lasting impression on me on a few memorable occasions.

The first – and by far most memorable – was as part of a mate’s stag do at Glorious Goodwood, during my equally memorable days at CPL. A certain Mr Ian Downes – tipster to the stars and uninitiated – provided tips for each race on a seven-race card. Despite several of the assembled fools and idiots taking a turn at the tipster hat, I managed to convince each of them that “my mate Ian knows about the gee-gees” and passed on the name of the “dead cert” for each race.

Despite a long day and a long night – a very long night – in Brighton, the kitty never ran dry… That’s how well we did. Thanks Ian!

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
Your esteemed industry colleagues Kirsty Guthrie and Hannah Stevens will outline what product categories and opportunities they see from their own perspectives in a moment. My initial focus in scoping the opportunity is on the value and numbers in horse racing, which are attractive stats. The sport clearly has an incredibly passionate and engaged audience.

For ‘incredibly passionate and engaged’ read: they attend live events, live and breathe it and literally study the past, present and future of the sport. Also, and perhaps crucially, they invest in the sport in the form of betting; from modest weekly punts, to massive accas, to a little flutter on The National every year.

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
Horse-racing is not only financially valuable in the UK, but it may surprise you to know that it is in fact the UK’s second most popular sport, behind football.

Approximately six million people attend horse-racing events each year, with 40% of them being women. The other layman’s observation one could also make is of course, that the demographics cover all of the population. And I do mean all, from Her Majesty onwards.

So, like any sports L&M programme, the ideal approach should be to cater for the whole spectrum of fans and spectators, from volume fan merchandise, to unique on-site event items, premium products and a relevant mixture of licensed co-brands (paid for) and licensed collabs (equity share), once the programme begins to mature.

Over to Hannah and Kirsty…

Hannah Stevens, The Point.1888Hannah Stevens, Head of Retail and Sport, The Point.1888

When it comes to sports licensing, the time is certainly now.

Having worked on two of the greatest sports events for the UK during this pandemic – Team GB for the Tokyo Olympics, as well as The British and Irish Lions for the South Africa tour – you can certainly see that the UK customer is more ready to enjoy sport than ever.

Lockdown and the lack of togetherness has provided a real want and need for products that give customers a slice of friendship, memories, and an opportunity to enjoy their favourite event in the comfort of their own home. Horse Racing is no different!

We are so used to seeing the warm photos of groups together enjoying a day together at Cheltenham, Ascot, Aintree and more. Licensing can certainly have a part to play in bringing that home.

Within the licensing space, there is certainly an opportunity for racecourses, race meetings and stable brands to thrive

Categories to enable a slice of the day within FMCG include picnic hampers, champagne collaborations, limited runs of strawberries and cream exclusive to a retailer and chocolate deals. Of course, publishing within sports allows fans a real lookback through the history of the sport and will always provide a real insight into the stories behind these incredible racecourses.

A real USP market that famous racecourses can capitalise on is the tailored market. It’s a category that has suffered during this pandemic, but there’s potential to launch beautiful collections for the Ladies Day weekends that so many are desperate to enjoy at racecourses across the UK. With the return to events and back to work, this could be a really nice opportunity for these brands to capitalise.

Within the E-sports and apps space, many sports are booming and it’s certainly one to watch for the horse racing world.

Let’s not forget collaborations with other brands. Goodwood is a perfect example. It’s a truly fantastic home for multiple sports – is there an opportunity to partner together? Could there be a way to bring the whole family and all their sports together in one collection? Our British and Irish Lions collection with golf brand Titleist united two sports in a way that only strengthened the brand love and special nature of the products

As a final note, the really positive message for licensing horse racing is the inclusivity the sport provides. With Rachael Blackmore as the first female jockey to win the Grand National, horse racing truly has the opportunity to drive the message of inspiration for everyone to be a part of the brand – and provide a space for all to compete on equal terms!

Simon Gresswell, SGLP

Kirsty Guthrie, KJG Ltd Kirsty Guthrie, Licensing Agent/Consultant, KJG Ltd

Looking out my patio doors to the back of my garden, I’m watching some yearlings frolic and fresh about in Cheveley Park Stud wondering if they will be future champions akin to the likes of Enable, Workforce, Envoi Allen, Allaho, Stradivarius, A Plus Tard and many more – and whether it be on the flats or the jumps!

I’m surrounded by various Studs (Godolphin, Banstead Manor – Frankel!) and professional jockeys… Ryan Moore, William Buick, James Doyle and Frankie Dettori, no less, all live in my village! Yes, I am lucky to be living and breathing all things that are horse racing here at Newmarket HQ.

We have two racecourses here in Newmarket. The July Course famous for The July Cup and The Rowley Mile infamous for The Guineas Festival – all champion races. Our courses are open March till October and during non-Covid times are jam packed full of racegoers and enthusiasts.

The Jockey Club HQ is situated in Newmarket. There you will find a beautiful gift shop that sells horse racing memorabilia in Palace House. Adjacent to it is a Horse Racing Museum fit for a king!

The Jockey Club also owns many racecourses up and down the country; Newmarket, Cheltenham, Epsom to name a few. This is where it gets exciting.

Products such as baseball caps, scarves, ceramics, cushions, calendars, stationery, luggage, jackets, umbrellas, gilets, tea towels, keyrings – the list goes on! – are all appropriate licensed products for the horse racing industry.

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
Tattersalls have their own shop selling bespoke products too. A bestseller this year was the face mask and I have one!

There is a massive opportunity to sell licensed products as per the above at the Jockey Club venues up and down the country. It doesn’t matter where you are from in the UK or elsewhere in the world, you will follow a horse and its owners’ colours – and this horse will have many an outing at various racecourses up and down the country over its racing life.

There really is an untapped opportunity to license more branded merchandise and memorabilia of the sport. Watch this space, I may have backed a winner here!

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
As Kirsty and Hannah have mentioned above, there should be scope for core categories, retail exclusives and endemic categories and brands, be they as collaborations or licensed co-brands.

In terms of core assets, horse-racing boasts famous horses and racecourses that are as much household names as any Premier League football club and its players. The racing aficionado is probably as loyal to their stable or jockey’s colours as any football fan is to their club colours or shirt – and potentially wealthier on some days and poorer on others!

I would aim to add luxury items for the likes of Godolphin, in the vein of core equestrian items like the dressage saddles licensed by Harry Dabbs from Jaguar or limited-edition writing instruments such as Montegrappa’s F1 Seventy.

Simon Gresswell, SGLP
I’d hope there is also opportunity for local or regional co-brands to appeal to the horse-racing fraternity. Kirsty would know these better than me, but I remember the relevance of the Harris Tweed x Ryder Cup collections including New Era caps and accessory bags at Gleneagles in 2014.

From my experience of acquiring the rights and initiating the licensing programme for Ascot/Royal Ascot back in 2016, I would only caution that like many consumers, sports fans may need time to change their habits at annual events and brands may need time to cultivate their interest and investment.

It’s therefore very pleasing to now see brands we seeded conversations with back then, like Radley, Christy and Charbonnel & Walker, appointed as licensed partners of perhaps the most famous course in the world, founded by Queen Anne in 1711.

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