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Everything You Need to Know About the History of Broadcasting the Grand National

One of the biggest televised horse racing events in the world is the Grand National. Every year, it has become a firm favourite of horse racing bettors, old and new, that head over to betting sites such as smarkets.com and watch their horse race… hopefully to victory.  But how long has it attracted national and international interest?

Here, we will look at the history of broadcasting the Grand National race - and everything you need to know about it.

A Solid History

Back in 1948, there were three National Hunt races broadcast on television. Within just a short space of time, there started to become regular coverage live from Kempton Park and Ascot. After several years of negotiating, the Grand National race was first televised in 1960 and its original commentators included Peter Bromley, Clive Graham and Peter O’Sullevan. The race programme was first presented by Cliff Michelmore - and this was because he stepped in at the last minute to replace David Coleman who was taken ill with appendicitis.

Coverage was questionable at first and only really improved in 1969 - the first time it was broadcast on television in colour. The only thing that didn’t go to plan that year was when O’Hehir made a rare mistake by calling the inner Highland Wedding as a faller. He then moved over to BBC Radio after this, commentating on a further 16 Grand Nationals, before he was replaced by his son, Tony, who commentated on 12 Grand Nationals before moving onto TV.

A Drop in Interest

By the time it hit 1995, there was a significant drop in Grand National viewing figures, with less than 12 million fans tuning in. The drop continued the following year - and this was a real cause for concern. Before this, the race attracted around 16 million viewers. However, for some unknown reason, in 1997, there was a huge increase in viewership when the race was run on a Monday after an IRA bomb threat - and 15.1 million tuned in to see it. This became the most watched television sporting event of the year.


A New View

The following year, 1998, was the first year that they attached mini cameras to three of the jockey’s helmets - to give a unique view of the race being run. They also did this for the John Hughes Memorial Trophy and the Martell Fox Hunter’s Chase. After the races were done, this footage was put together to use in a mobile simulator - the Morphis MovieRide Theatre - now a permanent attraction at the Aintree Visitor’s Centre. This gives participants thereal  jockey experience whilst never having to ride a horse!

However, this wasn’t enough to keep the interest up. The viewer numbers dipped again in 1999, with just over 10 million interested. Coverage was better than it had ever been - 45 cameras were now being used - compared to 16 first used back in 1960. This drop continued and in 2000, there were fewer than 9 million viewers. Many blamed the nice weather, however, still more people watched this than the Wimbledon, the Golf Open or even the Olympics.


The Grand National Goes Global

In 2001, the Grand National was broadcast to 148 different countries - even as far as China. This meant that the race had a potential audience of more than 650 million. Moreover, the advent of the internet also meant that it could be seen online as well. However, this also coincided with a year of technical problems, which left John Hammer having to commentate on 24 fences instead of the intended 12.

By 2003, although there were fewer than 8 million viewers in the UK, it attracted over 600 global viewers. Now, this is an event that still attracts many fans and bettors in the UK - more than most other sporting events, but it will never be as popular as back in the early 1990s. However, it is still popular all around the world and will always be popular with horse racing fans and bettors alike.

 

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