There is not a major sporting organisation in Australia that does not have to work overtime to maintain crowd numbers, let alone increase them.

That is why the new attendance records set at the Melbourne Cup Carnival will be the envy of major sporting bodies such as the AFL and the NRL, and even the organisers of the Melbourne Grand Prix and the Australian Tennis Open.

The four-day Flemington carnival attracted a record 418,000 spectators – up 35,000 on 2005. Two days, Derby Day and Emirates Stakes Day, broke individual attendance records.

After the Derby attracted 129,000 I thought that would be the end of record setting for the carnival. Not so.

The final day, now skilfully marketed by the VRC as a “family day”, used to be the “fag end” of the carnival in more ways than one. A decade ago a crowd of 25,000 was the norm.

On Saturday more than 78,000 turned up.

In 2000 the total attendance at the carnival was around 300,000, so an increase of more than a third over a six-year period is exceptional in an era in which the overall trend in sports attendances is, at best, static.

There are several reasons why the VRC has become the pacesetter in the racing industry and beyond. Some years ago, in order to fund the construction of a multi-level grandstand, the club opened up its membership – and today the VRC has over 22,000 members, more than any other racing club in Australia.

Its communication with its members is exceptional. On the eve of the carnival all VRC members get a “welcome to the carnival” text message from the Chairman, Rod Fitzroy. The mailouts and emails to members put other clubs in the shade.

The promotion of corporate hospitality has been taken to new heights, and probably yields the VRC tens of millions a year, especially over Cup week.

It has made the whole carnival into an “event”, and one of unparalleled success.

But there is no resting on laurels for the VRC. The track surface will be totally reconstructed – meaning that Flemington won’t see racing again until just before the next Cup carnival, a move owners, trainers and punters alike will welcome given that track “bias” was about the only negative at this year’s record-breaking Cup carnival.

Peter Fray

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