Melbourne Cup week is racing’s biggest drawcard.
Recently Channel 10 regained the broadcasting rights from Channel 7, paying $100 million for exclusive control of the coverage of Cup week until 2023. This is the most lucrative broadcast deal in Australian racing history.
Last year, the combined attendance for the four Cup week meetings, highlighted by the first Tuesday in November, was 303,587. On average that’s over 75,000 per day – higher than the average crowd of any football club of any code in the country.
However, as large as these numbers seem, they show a downward trend.
In 2017, the total crowd for the four days was 310,068; in 2016 it reached 318,854.
The least attended of these days was Oaks Day. Held on Thursday, ‘Ladies Day’ is the only race day of the four that doesn’t fall on a weekend or public holiday. It is often regarded as the forgotten day of the carnival.
One idea being floated is to move Oaks Day from its traditional late-morning start to a later, twilight meeting.
This is a move the Victoria Racing Club, the governing body that operates racing at Flemington, will trial during the 2019-20 season, with two non-feature meetings to take place in this time-frame.
The Victorian Racing Club can look to the success the Melbourne Racing Club (which runs racing at Caulfield, Sandown and Mornington) has enjoyed to support a move to twilight racing.
Since early 2018, the Melbourne Racing Club has trialled twilight racing during daylight savings, on Wednesday evenings, recording significant success in both revenue raised from wagering and on-track attendance.
In Cup week, the move from daytime to twilight would allow more people to commute from work to take in the carnival, as well as allow Channel 10 to broadcast into prime-time, giving racing exposure to a larger scale audience on a free-to-air network.
It would also allow a greater recovery time between Melbourne Cup Day and Thursday afternoon, surely beneficial for all during a hectic work period.
However one significant issue racing will have to negotiate is beyond anyone’s control – the sun.
Flemington is the only metropolitan track in the country that has racing up a straight for sprint races, rather than the conventional oval shaped tracks with four bends.
Jockeys have regularly complained about looking into the sun as it sets at Flemington as they approach the finishing line. This could potentially interfere with a move to this time slot, but could be still be avoided with a slightly earlier finish.
With Channel 10 freshening up Melbourne Cup week, perhaps a bold innovation for an industry steeped in tradition would be a risk worth taking.