Case Study: Victoria Pendleton Switching Saddles

When Betfair looked to beat its competitors last year, Pitch came up with a year-long campaign which challenged Olympic cyclist champion Victoria Pendleton to abandon the bike and sit in the horse saddle. The results? A 49% increase in Betfair customers as the campaign reached its peak.

Pitch Bet Fair


Campaign: Victoria Pendleton Switching Saddles
Client: Betfair
PR Team:
Timing: March 2015 – March 2016
Budget:  £400,000


‘Switching Saddles’ is a unique campaign centred on Betfair’s challenge to Olympian Victoria Pendleton to switch sports and go from cyclist to jockey, and ride a racehorse in a competitive race at the Cheltenham Festival.

While other betting brands were ‘hijacking’ and ‘disrupting’ the news agenda, we created our own, captured the imagination of the UK public and delivered a 49% increase in Betfair customers at the peak of the campaign.


The annual Cheltenham Festival is the biggest four days in horse racing’s year, with more bets placed on the four days of racing than any other period in the calendar.

Historically, PR stunts have dominated Cheltenham, driving coverage for bookmakers in a way that fails to offer them a positive voice or point of difference.

Betfair wanted a positive PR campaign that would generate a clear point of difference from our competitors and deliver clear business impact during the most lucrative sporting event of the year.

The objectives for the campaign were:

  • Increase Betfair brand awareness in the UK in the lead-up to and during the 2015 and 2016 Cheltenham Festivals.
  • Generate a positive association between Betfair and horse racing among the core betting, and recreational betting, audiences.
  • Drive new customers to the Betfair App and website during the Cheltenham Festival

Strategy and Implementation

The audience was ‘core’ bettors (males 24-60), and ‘recreational’ bettors (both male and female and who bet on the ‘big occasion’).

With the UK sports agenda dominated by football, we needed a campaign that had the breadth to shine alongside the latest Premier League news, and feature outside of the sports pages.

Victoria Pendleton’s celebrity gave us this opportunity and, by championing a female in a male dominated sport, our campaign and her challenge had appeal beyond the core bettor audience.

‘Switching Saddles’ was strategically planned, with campaign milestones designed to coincide with major Betfair moments, including the Grand National, FA Cup Final, the start of the football season and the Betfair initiative, National Jockey Day.

We approached the campaign like a race. Start with a bang, maintain pace through the middle, then come home with a big finish, taking the UK on a year-long journey following Victoria’s transformation, culminating in the Foxhunter’s Chase at the Cheltenham Festival 2016.

The campaign was built on content, with video, photography and interview assets used to drive coverage. Over the course of the year we released ten videos, four photo essays, held eight media days and issued more than 20 press releases, all of which featured extensively in the UK media.

Switching Saddles ran for 12 months:

  • March 2015: Cheltenham Festival launch
  • April 2015: Grand National training update
  • July 2015: First public race
  • August 2015: Amateur licence exam
  • Sept 2015: First amateur flat race
  • November 2015: First Point to Point race
  • February 2015: First National Hunt race
  • March 2016: Cheltenham 2016 announcement
  • March 2016: Cheltenham 2016 Foxhunters Chase

Switching Saddles was a yearlong national campaign covered by every UK media outlet, from the north of Scotland to the south of Cornwall, making Betfair the most talked about betting brand at two consecutive Cheltenham Festivals.


Betfair’s reputation in the horse racing industry received a positive shift, with sentiment for the campaign among horse racing media registering 82% positive.

“If there is a version of the Oscars for PR stunts, Switching Saddles by Victoria Pendleton – in association with Betfair – deserves to sweep the board”, Greg Wood, The Guardian

  • The campaign delivered 830 items of Betfair branded coverage in the space of a year.
  • Just under half (49.3%) of the 830 items of coverage were in national media.
  • The campaign helped Betfair to secure a spontaneous brand awareness increase of 2%.
  • On the back of the campaign launch (March 2015) Betfair achieved its best Cheltenham to date with £160 million bet on the festival – a 4% increase in the volume of bets placed compared to the previous year (2014).
  • Between February and March 2016, awareness amongst customers increased from 17% to 45% (or by 28%) and by 14% to 26% for non-customers.
  • 35% of those that were aware of the association remembered it was about Horse Racing.
  • The campaign trended five times in the UK.
  • The volume of bets on the Betfair Sportsbook for Victoria Pendleton’s race, the 2016 Foxhunter’s Chase, increased by 49% YOY making it one of the top ten UK races of the year.
  • The Betfair Exchange saw £5.1 million matched on the 2016 Foxhunter’s Chase, up 35% YOY.


Related Posts
Opinion: How challenger agencies can compete with the big agency networks
Barbara Bates, global CEO at Hotwire, highlights the key areas where challenger agencies can go the extra mile to compete with their larger counterparts. For a long time in [...]
60 Seconds with The Academy co-founder Mitch Kaye
60 Seconds with The Academy co-founder Mitch Kaye
Mitch Kaye, co-founder of The Academy, reveals why he and Dan Glover started their second agency, how the pair work together and his love of AFC Bournemouth. What made you [...]
Discover how PR can move from evolution to revolution
At CommsCon earlier this month, we heard a range of fantastic speakers articulate their view of what comms professionals can do to improve their output. They encouraged their [...]
Brendon Craigie Tyto PR
Opinion: Why “PR” is having a renaissance
Brendon Craigie, co-founder and managing partner at Tyto PR, examines why PR professionals are once again adopting the PR moniker. The public relations industry is in the [...]