The Cheltenham Festival is known as being one of the biggest sporting events of the calendar year, with crowds surpassing 50,000 flooding the streets of Gloucestershire for the historic event.
This year, things are going to be expectedly different, as supporters are forced to watch from home and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means they are not allowed in attendance.
Not only is this bad for the Jockey Club, who own the racecourse, but it is catastrophic economically for the surrounding towns. The University of Gloucestershire’s Centre of Contemporary Accounting Research estimate that the four days of racing brings more than £100m to the Gloucestershire economy and with nobody allowed to watch this year, that’s a lot of money to be losing.
Here we go then! Very much looking forward to four fantastic days of the #CheltenhamFestival, starting on Tuesday.— James Stevens (@JamesStevens180) March 14, 2021
It’ll be an strange experience reporting on course but would be nice for some winners – so here are my five top tips for the meeting.
Good luck and enjoy! 🏇 pic.twitter.com/zDq1gSaym9
Racing Post journalist and UoG alumnus, James Stevens, believes that the restrictions on supporters at the event will have a telling impact on the town.
“I think at the racecourse alone there is about 5000 people employed and they bring buses in from London because people want temporary work,” Stevens said. “It’s a huge operation and that’s just at the racecourse itself. In the town it’ll be the pubs that are shut, the hotels that lose out on room that would be fully booked from April really and they’ll have been charging two or three times the price. Residents here would even use their spare bedroom and make a few quid out of that.
“Everyone has some sort of link to Cheltenham, in some strange and peculiar way and that’s the important thing about it. It is disappointing and it comes at a really difficult time because it’s close to the tax bills. A lot of businesses I’ve spoken to say that this week normally pays their tax bill, they don’t have to think about tax, they just use all of their money from Cheltenham for the tax bill. A lot of businesses just live life not worrying about tax and now they’re certainly going to have to.“
Cheltenham itself will definitely be hoping that things can get back to normal for next year, as a string of small businesses have already gone under and many won’t survive another year without spectators.
“I think the town through tourism gets around £60 million which is roughly 35% of the tourism economy that Cheltenham will get every year. That’s going to hurt the town because small businesses don’t have big funding to rely on. That’s what I fear most. It will hurt Cheltenham but I’m sure that in 2022 they’ll be making some money again.”
It was this time last year that the festival controversially went ahead. Stevens believes that this has tarnished the reputation of the sport as many believe that it was a ‘super-spreader’ event which caused COVID-19 infections to spike.
“It’s not an ideal situation and it’s sad for racing because the sport was really hit hard by that in terms of a perspective and perception issue because people looked at Cheltenham and said that it shouldn’t have gone ahead they blamed racing and they blamed Cheltenham,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s not really their fault but hindsight is a beautiful thing.”