Ascot Racecourse is visited by just under 600,000 people a year, accounting for 10% of all UK racegoers. It was the first racecourse in Europe to reach the 500,000-racegoer milestone, too, highlighting its immense popularity.

As well as world-class racing, Ascot Racecourse is also used as a movie and television filming location, as well as a venue for conferences, banquets, exhibitions, product launches and weddings.

Despite its prestigious reputation and traditional charm, Ascot Racecourse hasn’t shied away from embracing the modern era. To achieve the Smart City plan, Ascot Racecourse had to begin the process of upgrading the technology in a number of areas, with one of those being the venue’s audio system.

With the decision made to go with Bose, SSE Audio were commissioned to design and install the large scale audio system that would suit Ascot Racecourse’s specific needs.

Andy Rigler, UK & IRL Manager, Bose Professional, added: “We worked really closely with Eddie and the SSE team. We’d informed Eddie that a large, entertainment-quality, outdoor loudspeaker, built for EN54, was coming from Bose. Having had a great experience with Bose ShowMatch loudspeakers in The O2 Arena, Eddie was confident that we could deliver with our next generation of DeltaQ loudspeakers.

“ArenaMatch loudspeakers can be configured with different horizontal and vertical coverage patterns, meaning that the dispersion pattern can be finely focussed to where it is needed. Each ArenaMatch loudspeaker features a 14” woofer, plus six EMB2S compression drivers delivering full range, high SPL, performance, without the need for sub bass units. This performance, coupled with the loudspeakers’ light weight, meant that Eddie and the SSE team had more choices on where and how the units would be hung within the grandstand.”

“We are incredibly excited by the audio improvements this new collaboration has brought to the venue. Sound is an integral part of the customer experience and working with a brand like Bose – a brand that shares many of our values and speaks to a similar audience – represents the perfect marriage of technology and tradition. SSE Audio have implemented this system perfectly – the two companies have worked brilliantly together to deliver an impressive system,” said George Vaughan, Head of Technology, Ascot Racecourse.

The visual element of Ascot Racecourse was another vital part of the project, with the venue deciding to work with Samsung on a full upgrade of the screens. Paul Tippins, Business Development Manager at Samsung, explained further: “Ascot were looking to replace all existing screens in the venue, from the concourse areas to the hospitality suites, but they had also identified other areas that would benefit from Samsung technology.  There is a mixture of high-end hospitality suites, areas with high sunlight and areas that required larger video wall screens.

“George became very familiar with the Samsung range of products and solutions by attending tradeshows – specifically ISE in Amsterdam – so, he had a good idea of what he wanted to achieve at Ascot. This was all put together by working closely with Ascot’s system integration partner, Elite AV.” 

George added: “We worked with Samsung on the 4K television upgrade – and that’s still ongoing. We had around 800 screens originally, but this number increased to over 1300 screens for Royal Ascot.

The technology deployed throughout Ascot Racecourse is built with the visitors to the venue in mind – and that is certainly true of the new point of sale system that has been provided by Kappture.

Andrew Motley, Commercial Director at Kappture, gave MONDO | STADIA some background on how they became involved at Ascot Racecourse: “We responded to a business tender response document in 2018 and went on to present to the Ascot hospitality & IT projects team. The brief was to future proof, deliver innovation and upgrade the existing hospitality EPOS platform. We had to provide greater flexibility for both EPOS users and administrators, reduce training time, reduce the speed of customer transactions, provide real time data, reduce support overhead and develop new solutions to improve efficiencies.

“We were successful in our presentation, so, from there, we went on to provide a fully integrated EPOS & Stock Management solution for the venue. This comprises of the standard fixed terminals around Ascot Racecourse, but also mobile terminals to be used for fine dining restaurants and within the private boxes, coupled with all-in-one POS and Payment PAX devices for use all over the estate.”

Ticketing, security and access have always been an important part of sporting venues, though the current COVID-19 pandemic has put them into sharper focus, particularly when it comes to using digital tickets to enter a venue. If they haven’t already, introducing contactless entry has to be a real priority for venues across the globe.

This is something that Ascot Racecourse has already started, collaborating with a number of companies to provide the perfect solution. Pronto-CX had a huge part to play in this area, as they use the latest mobile wallet technology from Apple and Google to help venues become more efficient and effective in both their on-site operation and as marketers.

“Our platform is built on a light and modern tech stack, offering contactless tickets, a loyalty engine, and mobile wallet. In fact, we call it a Modern Wallet because it features new app-less commerce, not more of the same,” explained Conrad Caplin, Co-Founder of Pronto-CX.

“Both Apple and Ascot Racecourse are major global brands, so the project required structure and had high standards to meet.  Fortunately, we had experience launching the same at professional sports clubs or top-flight university programs in the United States, so we were already aware of the process and able to help Ascot accelerate through their implementation.  We focused on Apple event tickets first and, thereafter, event tickets for Google Pay.

“This required close collaboration with other vendors such as Vivaticket for the primary ticketing, SKIDATA for access control, and Rawnet, who are the app developer.”

Having both Apple and Google involved has opened up a whole range of possibilities for Ascot – any of the print-at-home or paper products, such as parking, meal, drink, or betting vouchers, can be replaced by their digital counterpart. This will lead to huge improvements in terms of lane speed and customer communications, as well as provide a better overall experience for customers and result in more efficient operation for the racecourse. A lot of that is being explored further by Ascot and Pronto-CX, particularly in the context of the historic venue’s COVID-19 response plan and what reopening the racecourse will look like.

SKIDATA were another company heavily involved in the new digital ticketing and access system, having been chosen due to its market-leading reader and turnstile hardware and Handshake.Logic software, which controls entire facilities.

Jeff Sheldon, Fan Engagement & People Access at SKIDATA, added: “APT-SKIDATA has actually been involved at Ascot Racecourse from the construction of the new grandstand, which opened in 2006. The vision was clear from the start and focussed around NFC technology to deliver: a mobile first approach; rapid entry; additional biometric security; ticket fraud prevention; effective low cost; and low carbon ticket distribution direct to mobile. Given the nature of Ascot, race-goers being able to exit and re-enter during the day was vital, too.

“To fully enable NFC, we have worked with Janam Technologies as they are the global leaders in handheld NFC readers. As with any new technology, the main challenge to the upgrade project was testing the NFC ticketing. As the whole project has seen some of the very best experts in their respective fields coming together – APT-SKIDATA, Pronto-CX, Apple, VivaTicket and Google – the collaboration has been smooth, effective and successful.”

Smart badges and people movement solutions have also been trialled at Ascot Racecourse, with the venue enlisting the help of UtterBerry, who provide wireless smart sensors systems to a huge variety of clientele. UtterBerry use patented sensors with integrated Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, allowing them to communicate with each other. These wireless sensors self-calibrate to form a mesh network and relay data between each other, working as a family of sensors in any particular area. They do not require line of sight between each other. For real-time remote access to the sensor data, the sensors are supported by a Base Station providing connectivity to the Internet or Local Network.

There has also been a refurbishment programme in place for Ascot Racecourse’s corporate boxes, with the venue having 230 boxes in total – more than any other venue in Europe. The likes of Bose and Samsung have played their part in providing the audiovisual element in these boxes, though Ascot have also looked at other more specialist areas, including rolling out wireless charging points.

“This is very much part of the vision to make Ascot Racecourse the technology leader in sports venues. We worked with the Ascot IT team to deploy Chargifi mobile phone charging spots in many of the hospitality boxes.  As well as that, we liaised with Ascot’s furniture and installation teams to ensure our technology blended in with the design aesthetic in the box,” said Anthony Fulgoni, EMEA Sales Director at Chargifi.

“The spots allow users of wireless charging capable phones – Samsung and Apple, for example – to recharge their device simply by placing it on the spot. The spot itself is elegantly built into the furniture, so there’s no trailing cables, unsightly plug points or a ‘lost and found’ problem.

“Each time a user charges their phone, we can collect this usage data – from the spot, not the phone  – to show how, where and when charging is used and present this as space utilisation information to the Ascot team.”

There are currently 92 Chargifi spots installed in 40 corporate boxes, with plans to install across the remainder by end of 2021. During a typical race day, Ascot and Chargifi can see frequent use of the service for anything from 15 minutes to a few hours of charging.

Ascot has taken the idea of Augmented Reality on board by working with Looking Glass – an experiential marketing technology company that markets and sells mobile app-based AR solutions to tier one brands, venues and events.

Iain Case, Director of Looking Glass, went into further detail: “We agreed to trial various approaches and use cases through the season. This included increasing consumer awareness pre-event and stimulating downloads of the Ascot app; enhancing customer engagement on site during events; and stimulating engagement with commercial partners and positively shaping customer behaviour on race days.”

With the plan in place, for Royal Ascot, Looking Glass augmented a pre-event advertising campaign by bringing traditional print and outdoor posters to life, displaying marketing videos and driving app downloads in advance of the event. Following the success of this initial project, for the Dubai Duty Free meeting, Looking Glass created a ‘live’ information board next to the statue of Frankel, bringing the horse’s amazing Ascot story to life.

The result of the technological upgrades and innovations across the board at Ascot Racecourse has certainly put the grand venue on the map for more than just its revered history. While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily halted proceedings, meaning visitors haven’t yet enjoyed the full experience of the new Ascot Racecourse, it’s clear that the venue is more than prepared for the new reality, too. Digital ticketing, contactless payments, wireless charging – the work has already been put in and, no doubt, we’ll see Ascot Racecourse and its visitors fully benefit in the near future.