The race that no longer stops the nation

This year’s Melbourne Cup posted the lowest attendance since the mid-1990s, alongside weak television viewership and betting numbers:

Attendance on the racetrack and TV ratings were down yesterday “for the race that stops the nation”.

This year, the Melbourne Cup hardly “stopped the nation”, as it has in days gone by, as poor publicity in the wake of the 7.30 report on race horse slaughter continues to damage the industry’s standing with ordinary Australians.

As a result, Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup crowd of 81,408 was the lowest since 1995 (when Doriemus won both the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup). Gambling was also down, as was TV viewing.

The punters bet 6.9% less on the race in NSW and Victoria, while overall TAB turnover fell 5.9% on the biggest punting day of the year. That also means state governments will get less from their various gambling taxes.

TV viewing fell sharply — the official ratings showed a fall from just under 2.5 million for the 2017 and 2018 cups, on Oztam ratings data, to 1.76 million — a drop of 730,000 or just under 30%.

Now Ten says the adjusted times for the 2019 cup showed an average national audience of 1.94 million — down more than half a million viewers or more than 20%. (The 2017 and 2018 figures are not time-adjusted.)
Viewing fell in metro markets from 1.83 million in 2018 to 1.324 million (1.44 million time adjusted) — a clear fall of more than 20%.

The regional audience dipped from 701,000 in 2017 (and 653,000 in 2018) to 438,000 this year (480,000 time adjusted).

Now, these figures do not include viewing in pubs, clubs cafes and other venues. But it should be noted that Lucio’s, a top Sydney Italian eatery in the suburb of Paddington, advertised a “non-Melbourne Cup” lunch on Facebook on Tuesday.

Lucio’s is an eatery where racing people like to celebrate, while a pub in the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown (where Greens and animal rights activists are highly visible) was also promoting a non-Melbourne Cup lunch function.

Just for fun, I thought I’d plot Melbourne Cup’s race attendance against Victoria’s population growth:

First, here are the raw numbers:

And here’s the attendance as a percentage of Victoria’s population:

Clearly, the Melbourne Cup – and horse racing more generally – is on the nose.

Leith van Onselen


  1. 90 bucks to stand around and drink piss with a bunch of yobs as some fillies run past occasionally?

    Can do that at Albert park for free.

    • The 2m people on temporary work visas no doubt have no affiliation with the Melbourne Cup, so why would they and their girlfriends spend $1k on cocaine and outfits for an event that means nothing to them.

      • That about sums it up. Expect similar trends in other sports for the same reason – okay maybe cricket will be fine, but the rest …

    • On the bright side, you and your children are far less likely to get strip-searched at the races.

  2. people seems to be surprised that horse racing with it’s mid 17th century appeal and 19th century fashion is failing to connect with kids born in 21st century
    What is surprising is that Melbourne Cup and horse racing in general managed to stay around for so long. Why would anyone in a world of internet waste any time watching horse racing. Even the betting aspect of it become meaningless in a world where one can bet on almost anything.
    Horse racing is in same dying off process as the monarchy is

  3. Your analysis misses some vital other evidence:
    Households are clearly up to their eyeballs in debt so giving it to the TAB is out.
    The new vibrant makeup of Victoria clearly don’t punt as much. (what do they carry in their backpacks through?)
    If you do want to punt, sit at home and do on the app. Save on your uber fares.

  4. attendance per percent population was definitely going to drop, with immigration adding people from cultures that don’t know or care about horse racing it can only fall. Get a feeling horse violence will only get worse if the industry starts to take a dive.

    • + 1
      Immigrants aren’t into it and locals are in their eyeballs in debt so don’t want to punt on it.

    • when it comes to popularity of horse racing (mounted horse racing) … it actually came to Europe from Asia
      in cultural ancient Europe mounted horse racing was not very popular, chariot racing was sport no.1 and also some riderless horse races but what we think about horse racing now came from Asia via Mongols and Arabs

      • Bullcarp – absolute rubbish.

        What a complete load of risible junk. Its been around in Europe for hundreds of years.

        The idea that you would throw in Chariot racing just makes your post even more absurd.

        • horse racing was around but it wasn’t very popular, maybe on some village events but in general it was something considered to be barbarian in Antiquity … if you look closely horse racing is not even part of European folklore or mythology

          and yes chariot racing was super popular in Rome and Greece because of the driving skill required (chariot racers were almost like gods – super popular), but racing on mounted horse wasn’t because it was about about quality of the horse not skill of a rider

          It became popular in UK (and rest of Europe) in 17th century with aristocracy at the time, but not with ordinary people. Popularity was due to prestige of horse ownership, not skill
          Modern equivalent of chariot racing would be car racing not horse racing, and that’s what is the case in Europe … car racing is now way more popular in Europe than horse racing (at least in “real” continental Europe maybe not in UK)
          countries where horse racing is most popular these days are Japan, UAE, UK and Australia – hardly a European tradition

      • interesting wasn’t aware apart from arabian horses being a thing that exists. at least for our major immigration countries they don’t have a big history?

  5. Whats with the ABC continually referring to it as “Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation”. Ita or whatever her name is, does she have some affiliation to this thing? Was listening to the Triple J the other day and was somewhat surprised how consistent that phrase was.

  6. The MC jumped the shark when it became an annual gift from the Australian betting public for foreign racehorse owners. Even this year, Vow and Declare was one of only two Australian horses (and it got lucky due to the weird impact crossing the equator has on Frankie Dettori’s ability to ride a horse in a straight line) . This means that few of the horses appearing are known to Australian audiences and so very few people are invested in the outcome over and above the office sweep and getting pissed.

    By contrast, The Everest is everything that the MC is not – mostly local horses who people recognise, there’s a qualification and buildup series to see who gets in and a result that means something for the future of local racing.

    • +1 for the trend & the buildup series. Also TV expose on the sicko electrotorture had an impact here. If it’s got to be done, just get the nail gun & do it! Don’t be an arsehat about it.

  7. Wasn’t the end of the Victorian drought around 2010? In general the drought = good, dry weather for racegoers in November. That might be a factor (though not the only one) in the decline since around then.

  8. What other outcome could there be when you’re looking at instant loss of license if caught with 2 schooners in your guts ? That’s the death knell for the hospitality industry right there. I’m sure that people have been involved in accidents whilst they’ve had 2 glasses of beer with lunch , but I’d be amazed if the beer was genuinely a causative factor.

    Ridiculous state of affairs.

    Once you factor in the white flight from Melbourne, the fact that vibrants don’t recognise the cultural aspect of the race , the vibrants preferring to do their gambling in a neon-lit dungeon and the dying drinking culture in Australia as a result of the Drink driving laws and it looks like the dole queue will be stacked with tiny people wearing brightly coloured silks in the near future.

    At least there’s a defined career path for the horses post-racing ….too bad it’s swimming in gravy and surrounded by puff pastry.

    • Fishing72
      “At least there’s a defined career path for the horses post-racing ….too bad it’s swimming in gravy and surrounded by puff pastry.”
      Very well put. When the system collapses that could be the future for most of us peasants.
      The elderly at least anyway. I am sure ScoMo could justify it. The Lord helps those that help themselves and all. If they don’t want to be in a mixed meat pie they should lift themselves out by the bootstraps.

    • Jumping jack flash

      well if losing your license if caught driving after a “few” drinks at the races means a few less dead people on the roads and a few less people at the races, then I know what I’m in favour of.

      However I am also very conscious that all the road statistics need to be reported in terms of per capita, or per numbers of licensed drivers, and probably also in terms of percentage of total vehicle registrations/state, otherwise saying that the road toll is 4, 6 or 12 and then waving your arms around if that number goes up and screaming for harsher penalties, more police and more radar zones, is ridiculous because there’s no context to the number.

      Considering that, the road tolls are probably the best they have ever been – a reflection of improved vehicle safety standards, technology, and regulations, no doubt, but there is an agenda to increase penalties, fines, police, and numbers of radar zones to earn more police revenue (police need debt to buy houses with like everyone else does). So if it was shown that road tolls per capita were actually stable or falling, even if the number of individual incidents was slightly increasing, then they wouldn’t have a case, would they. Instead, it’d be a case of “mission accomplished” and “thanks, police. You’re doing a great job with what you already have, so there’s no urgency to increase your operations”.

      • stats should be showed in per km traveled terms and also average traveling speed should be included
        in most of sydney, most of the time none drives over 30km/h because traffic is so bad, at that speed even being hit by a semi is not that dangerous

      • Considering how bad vibrants are behind the wheel and how they keep flooding the major cities it is amazing that there has not been a increase.

    • HadronCollisionMEMBER

      you’re definitely right about all that
      especially the fact 0.05 is a bad idea and total fun police. total waste of time.
      should all be allowed to drive p!ssed as newts, driving the torana home at 20km/h one eye closed to aid focus, peering at centre white line to help us go straight

      sounds super good actually

  9. The biggest difference for me was this year I didn’t see a single drunk person in thier finery staggering home on the train. Was genuinely surprised.

    • I noticed this too. It was very quiet post-race, more so than just the drop in attendance numbers would suggest.

  10. Melbourne’s population is zooming, but they’re all foreigners who don’t give a sh!t about Australian culture in general or horse racing in particular. Nobody else has any money because they’re all paying off giant mortgages, or vast amounts of rent to Specufestors who own 16 houses.

    As some anecdata from the rest of the country, my partner said that the race passed without a mention in her APS office. My office mate passed up on the opportunity for free beer and nibbles because he said he had no interest in it.

    Race that stops a nation my ar$e.

  11. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Just like that, overnight, horse racing became unsociable. And I’ve got no idea why. I’ve always found that people who are into the horses are generally your more successful types. They will have a go and strive to do what it takes to maximise their profits. They are the glamorous good looking risk taking types we should all aspire to be.

  12. kiwikarynMEMBER

    Who has the money to spend? First the inflated ticket prices, then the ridiculously over priced rubbish wine and beer they serve, plus the cost of the outfits and hats, and lastly gambling. Peeps are totes broke! (pun intended).

  13. Do you think soon we will be referring to Indians as “the race that stopped the race that stops a nation”?

  14. About 20 years ago they changed the time of the race to shortly before school finished to shortly after.
    Suddenly, GenZ kids are emerging who have not had 13 years of enforced instruction in horse racing and sweeps and betting. And the majority don’t care enough to learn.
    Couple it with workplaces that no longer are as generous in giving staff time off and a cheese platter, and the 4 Corners story, and there just aren’t very many people interested, plus a growing cohort who are actively hostile. The racing industry/fans aren’t seeing this, because the hard core fans are still there, week in, week out at the TAB etc, it is the casual participants who are dropping out.
    Give it a few more years and it will be like the trots or the dogs, very niche.

  15. I expect there’s hardly a cultural institution in this country that isn’t experiencing a decline in interest except maybe Halloween.

  16. Melbourne Cup is great – an excuse to stop working at 2, and hit off with drinks for the rest of the day!