Marketing the Grand National

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national fenceQuestion: What’s the most watched race on television? Answer: The Grand National.
Question: What’s the second most watched race on television? Answer: The re-run of the Grand National. Last year that attracted close on six million viewers. That presents Channel 4 with a major marketing challenge, which it was discussing with officials from Aintree yesterday.

The nub of the problem is that Channel 4 rarely attracts more than 25% of the BBC1 audience. In effect, the marketing message that promotes the race, the course, and the city of Liverpool may now only reach a quarter of its traditional audience. That led Jamie Aitchison, sports editor for Channel 4, to claim that by the time the National comes round on 6 April, anyone who doesn’t know that the race will be shown on his station must have been living on the moon.
Aitchison was reluctant to release full details of the marketing campaign for the National ahead of the talks with Aintree, but emphasised that “we said when we won the contract that it would be impressive, and what I’ve seen is incredibly ambitious and exciting.”

One theme appears to be promotion outside the racing programmes, and Aitchison did say Channel 4 would run a racing themed Come Dine With Me. He added “Come Dine With Me isn’t the most high profile thing we’ll be doing – there’s primetime stuff, not just daytime.” Well, thank goodness for that.

One objective is to pick up on the welfare issues that have dominated much of the post race comment in the last couple of years. Aitchison said that the broadcaster wanted to be sure they were ready to respond to anything that happened during the race. He said, “What we’re trying to do is put in place all the communications on course between us, the BHA, and Aintree, so people at home aren’t left hanging.”

If they can pull that off, Channel 4 may also manage to ensure that people don’t switch off or change channel immediately after the race. Then, it may just help encourage repeat viewers. Aitchison was upbeat about that, saying, “We’ll do a great job on that Saturday, but we want people to come back the following week, and the week after that. That’s what the National gives us – a platform to sell racing.”

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