THE NEW man at the helm of Fontwell Park racecourse loves working at what he regards as a ‘hidden gem – he just doesn’t want it to be so hidden.
Simon Williams, who has taken over as the racecourse’s executive director, believes there are still many people out there who have not sampled the venue either for a race meeting or on a non-race day.
The 40-year-old has moved to racing from football and hopes to use some of the commercial lessons he has learned to increase the number of people who call themselve Fontwell regulars.
Williams spent several years on the commercial and marketing wing of Blackburn Rovers FC, championing ‘affordable’ football that saw Ewood Park attendances grow significantly.
More recently he has been running the commercial operation for Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex.
Williams said: “Fontwell Park is a hidden gem, but it’s too hidden for my liking. You can drive past it on the A27 and not really have any idea what’s here, or even realise it’s here at all.
“It’s only when you come into the racecourse you realise it’s scale and the wide variety of facilities here. There are very few racecourses that have the charm of Fontwell Park and its house and gardens, and one of my challenges is to get even more people visiting and finding out what we have to offer.”
Williams acknowledges that race-goers and people who may come through the gates on non-race days, for anything from weddings to business conferences, are all vital to Fontwell’s prosperity. And he believes his football background can help him ensure the racecourse continues to draw the crowds, and in greater numbers.
“Racing is catching up with football in some respects,” said Williams, whose time at Brighton coincided with them settling into their new stadium and pushing to get into the Premier League.
“Football clubs are now very good at knowing through their databases who attends and getting them to keep coming back. Racing needs to know more about its cunsumers and understand what they like and don’t like, and what they’ll come back for.
“We need to offer more to sponsors and show them how we can help their business, and make the whole experience better for everyone.”
There is racing in Williams’ family – his father worked on the commercial side of Epsom, Sandown and Aintree raceocurses.
“The thing I love about racing is it retains its traditions and heritage – in a good way, a lot about racing hasn’t changed.”
Williams said he liked the mixture of race meetings Fontwell now offered – ranging from big bank-holiday and Boxing Day family-orientated days to summer evenings, like last week’s Ladies’ Evening, through to the midweek afternoon cards aimed more at the racing purists.
With the track currently staging 24 fixtures a year, Williams isn’t aiming for big changes to the programme – but is excited by the challenge of increasing the overall audience, both for racing and other occasions.
“I had no intention of leaving Brighton,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have swapped it for Fontwell Park if I didn’t think there was huge potential here.”
Fontwell’s next meeting is next Thursday, August 28.