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Sponsors bet on NTRA to reach horseracing pros

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The National Thoroughbred Racing Association was founded in 1997, long after Major League Baseball, the National Football League, even NASCAR. But an innovative sports marketing program, NTRA Purchasing, is helping the organization play catch-up.

With its purchasing program, the NTRA has attracted big name b-to-b sponsors such as FedEx Corp., John Deere & Co. and Nextel Communications Inc.

"We find it unique in the marketplace," Nancy Altenburg, FedEx’s manager-sponsorship marketing, said of NTRA Purchasing.

Dennis Stewart, manager-national agricultural sales for Deere, is another supporter of the program. "We get some branding; we get some media coverage; and we get to sell product," he said. "The bottom line is we sell product, or they sell product for us—even better."

The premise of NTRA Purchasing is simple. The association employs a sales staff that is charged with selling sponsors’ products to NTRA members and member organizations. The thoroughbred industry has 470,000 jobs, ranging from racetrack executives to breeders, trainers and grooms, according to the NTRA.

The program helps differentiate the association from the NFL and other sports marketing opportunities, said Joe Morris, president of NTRA Purchasing.

"Everybody has hospitality," he said. "Everybody can put an ad in a special magazine. One thing that is different is that the NTRA has a dedicated sales staff that will go out and sell these vendors’ products to our members. We know who they are, and we know how to reach them."

Program works

The program, created shortly after the NTRA was formed, is working, Morris said. He expects it will generate $25 million to $30 million in sales this year, up from about $15 million last year. The program has 10 sales people, and Morris expects to add three or four in the near future.

Another sign of the program’s success: Morris is relocating from Maine to Lexington, Ky., where the NTRA is headquartered. "This move is because the purchasing group is going that well," he said.

Among the other companies participating in NTRA Purchasing are Sherwin-Williams Co., Toshiba America Business Solutions Inc. and Boise Cascade Corp. Most participants, who pay varying fees to be sponsors of the NTRA and of NTRA events such as the Breeders’ Cup, offer special discounts for NTRA members.

"These are billion-dollar companies, and they can do more for our members than just price," Morris said. Toshiba, for instance, offers a full audit of business machines, and Sherwin-Williams will inspect a facility and recommend coatings for all surfaces, Morris said.

Morris surveyed the NTRA membership about areas where volume purchasing might come in handy. Near the top of the list were trucks and cell phones, so in June the NTRA announced that it had added Dodge and Nextel as sponsors and as members of the NTRA Purchasing program.

"This is not about luxury items," Morris said. "All of the product categories are things that these farms and racetracks are using on a daily basis."

Nextel makes the call

The announcement that Nextel was sponsoring the Breeders’ Cup and joining NTRA Purchasing came on the heels of the announcement that Nextel would become the title sponsor of NASCAR’s elite racing series in 2004. "This is 500,000 people running a business, not 500,000 consumers," said Michael Robichaud, Nextel’s director-sports and entertainment marketing, said of NTRA Purchasing.

Deere’s Stewart knows the program has worked for his company, which sells tractors, mowers and loaders to the thoroughbred industry. "We’ve more than doubled our market share with racetracks since 1999," he said.

FedEx joined NTRA Purchasing in January. Altenburg said NTRA Purchasing is a rarity—a genuine partnership. "We win, because we pick up some incremental shipping business that we wouldn’t have had, and they win by the infusion of cash [for the traditional sponsorship]," she said.

Altenburg expects other sports organizations to begin emulating NTRA Purchasing. "It would work for CART [Championship Auto Racing Teams] and possibly for IRL [Indy Racing League]," she said. "I’ve even spoken to CART about it."

Adam Saal, VP-communications for CART’s Champ Car World Series, acknowledged that NTRA Purchasing has its attractions. "I could definitely see it working here," he said.

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