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#TBT - How Ladbrokes Saved the Grand National!

The Grand National is known throughout the world as the most prestigious and important event in the horse racing calendar, watched by a staggering 6 million people globally.

Every year around 150,000 spectators descend on Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, suited and booted for the day ahead and hopeful of winning a penny or two. But it’s not just its unrivalled atmosphere and buzz that makes the Grand National so special - there’s also the rich history the race is steeped in. As the UK’s oldest running horse racing event, the Grand National has been held every year since 1839, accumulating the highest winning figures of any UK horse event in history during that time.

Here at Ladbrokes, it’s unsurprisingly one of the most important and exciting events of our calendar too – but what you may be surprised to learn is just how close the UK’s favourite horse race came to disaster, before it was helped back from the brink by none other than our very own company. It’s a little known story that we’re proud to shout about…

It all started back in 1973 – the year of a Grand National victory by the legendary Red Rum. The course itself had recently been bought out by property developer, Bill Davies, and fans were eager to see what redevelopment and rejuvenation he could bring to Aintree. However not long after his purchase, horse racing fans were left bewildered and furious when Davies decided to triple admission prices of the big day! This unsurprisingly left many thousands of Grand National veteran fans unable to attend the race anymore. By 1975 attendance ratings for the race had plummeted to a shocking low of just 6,000 spectators. The Jockey Club, although devastated by this low turnout were powerless to change things, and suddenly faced the prospect of the Grand National slowly fading into obscurity…

That’s when Ladbrokes stepped in. After being contacted by the Jockey Club for assistance, Cyril Stein – a senior member of the Ladbrokes team and huge horse racing lover – was drafted in to negotiate an all-important 8 year lease for the Aintree Estate, and even launched a popular publicity campaign to raise awareness of what was happening to the UK’s most beloved race. Cyril was initially worried that a Southerner such as himself marching up from London might not go down too well with Davies and his team up North, so instead recruited a junior member of his marketing team, Mike Dillon, to run the negotiations. He believed Mike’s thick Manchester accent would help to butter Davies up, as well as his highly creative ideas of course!

Dillon soon identified that the Grand National attendance problems came down to three key factors; first – the escalating prices of tickets. Second – the clashes with local football games. And finally, the lack of direct transport to and from Aintree for spectators. With tenacity, diplomacy and sheer determination, Dillon and the guys from Ladbrokes were able to persuade Davies to once again lower ticket prices, as well as working closely with Liverpool FC to organise football games that didn’t clash with the big race – and even liaising with transport companies to arrange a direct bus link for attendees... Happy days!

The new changes implemented by Stein, Dillon and the rest of the Ladbrokes team undoubtedly helped to steer the sinking ship of the Grand National back to dry land. Within a few years of these new changes, attendance figures had sky-rocketed once more to around 70,000 people. Local bars, restaurants, hotels and transportation services saw a huge spike in their profits and the local economy was soaring, as well as the success of the event itself. What’s more, the successful PR campaign started by Ladbrokes ultimately lead to the eventual buyout of the Aintree Estate by the Jockey Club itself, funded by a wealth of public donations! So a happy ending all around, thanks to the intervention of our very team back in the day…

So as you can see from this story, a career at Ladbrokes is about so much more than simply betting. We truly listen to your ideas and value your contribution, encouraging our staff to be creative and really own their roles. We’re a company who really do care – reflected in our amazing treatment of staff, significant contributions to charities and commitment to responsible gambling and mitigating risk.

Click here now to view our exciting new career openings today and find out how you can jump on board with our fantastic team!

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