Football’s loss was racing’s gain when Commercial Executive Steven McCarthy took up his post at Newcastle racecourse. His idea to tap into the city’s student population saw 4,000 young people head to the racecourse – many for the first time – for a student racenight that transformed the evening’s atmosphere and certainly won some converts to the sport.
Racing became my second career
I am from a small town in West Cork, Ireland, called Skibbereen. I moved to England when I was 15 years old, as a result of being signed by Sunderland Football Club. I had a great four years playing there but unfortunately was injured in my last season and I was released at this stage. My next move was to apply, and get accepted for a football scholarship at Northumbria University where I studied Sports Business and Management.
My dad and uncle were always big racing fans and, of course, being from Ireland racing is a part of our culture, so I always had an interest. In my first year at university I worked at the Border Minstrel Pub, which is located at Newcastle Racecourse. It was a part-time job but this is when I became familiar with the racecourse. It is also when I first met the Executive Director, David Williamson, and I served him and his wife. I must have made an impression because they both asked about what I was doing and David said when he was leaving, ‘come see me when you are done with your degree’, which is what I did and here I am.
I think the main reason I wanted to work at Newcastle Racecourse is because I knew it was fast-paced and that’s what I like. I also knew that they were already doing great work at the racecourse and I believed there was a real opportunity to learn, but also I felt I could implement my ideas and add to the business.
An idea borrowed from back home
I pitched the idea of a student racenight to the team because it seemed such a no brainer. I had seen the success in Ireland and they get crowds of 13,000 students; with Newcastle having 60,000 students between two universities, I truly believed if we got it right then it would be a success.
The idea was really well received by the whole team once I explained what I thought about the potential. Throughout the process the whole team was amazing in assisting in any way possible to make the event a success.
Collaboration helped us market to Students
The most challenging aspect was at the beginning and trying to figure out how we would reach the students. We didn’t have the database or the imagery we needed to attract them so I managed to set up a meeting with a student events promotion company and we both worked together with promoting and selling tickets, which really was the secret.
The most rewarding part for me was on the night watching nearly 4,000 students walking down to the fence to watch each race and cheering on the horses, the atmosphere was incredible and that is what you want to see at a racing event. I definitely believe we will have future racegoers after this event!
Leave them wanting more
The feedback has been incredible, everyone is asking me when the next one will be!
I think you have to look at it as a positive, as we managed to get nearly 4,000 students up to the racecourse and the majority of them had never been before. They all had a great night, which makes it more likely they will return again. You have to involve young people and get them up to see the sport. It’s an obvious thing to say, but young people are the future and with new fans comes the chance to attract future industry staff, owners, trainers or regular race goers. That is a positive in my eyes.
Newcastle and our local community
Being a part of the community is integral to the racecourse, and when we are able to support others through food donations or local club sponsorship, which I know the racecourse has done in recent times, it really helps strengthen those links.
There’s a Residents’ Racenight on the horizon, as well, and we believe that it’s important we give back to the community through initiatives like these, as we greatly appreciate their support throughout the year.