Racing sponsors get room to stretch

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A Growing number of marketers are saddling up with horse racing as the sport tries to create greater awareness among TV and on-site consumers.

This was apparent in last weekend's $13 million Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, where a host of sponsors lined Arlington Park, outside Chicago, and national TV screens.

This is just the latest in the Lexington, Ky.-based National Thoroughbred Racing Association's effort to introduce consumers and sponsors to the sport of kings. The Breeders' Cup is the culmination of the NTRA's annual World Champion Series of races that begin Labor Day weekend.

"There has been a renewed corporate interest in [horse racing] of late, with corporate and mainstream consumer companies using it as a marketing platform," says William Chipps, senior editor at IEG Sponsorship Report, a Chicago-based newsletter covering sports, arts, entertainment and cause-related marketing. "The range of demographics would give [sponsors] a very desirable demographic."

The NTRA pitches sponsorship deals to companies seeking to reach affluent as well as general-market consumers, and international markets. Though the Breeders' Cup draws attendees with an average household income of $94,000, according to NTRA statistics, horse racing's rank-and-file demographics remain much the same as they have for years. The traditional racing fan skews male and older, having much to do with the type of consumer who has moderate discretionary income and weekday time to spend at the track.

reaching out to women

Horse racing has tried to lure more female fans. Also, NTRA executives say that about 3 million attendees qualify as "light and lapsed"- attending less than twice a year.

Efforts to re-energize horse racing began in 1998 with the "Go baby go" campaign, originally created by Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York. Today, advertising is created internally by NTRA Creative Services, along with DeVito/Verdi, New York, for radio and Red7e, Louisville, Ky., for national co-op TV work for local track use. The "Go baby go" theme remains in use throughout the advertising.

The NTRA this year also launched with member tracks a co-op "Million Dollar Mystery Voucher" $1 million giveaway. Entries were mailed to a total of 1 million households near participating tracks. Prizes were vouchers ranging from $2 to $1 million, and were redeemable for cash or wagering. The redemption rate for the promotion was 10%, says Keith Chamblin, senior VP-marketing and industry relations with the NTRA.

"You have a lot of people who just don't have horse racing as a top-of-mind alternative to whatever else they're doing," says Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi. "The marketing tries to change that."

The efforts have shown some success. Broadcast and cable TV racing coverage has increased 60% since 1998, reaching 184 hours in 2002, according to NTRA statistics. In 2002, Triple Crown series ratings increased 11% over 2001 and were the highest since 1990, the association reports.

The Breeders' Cup and horse racing in general are getting additional exposure from the Television Games Network, an ad-supported cable channel featuring TV and interactive wagering. TVG carried no live races from the Breeders' Cup but featured pre-race coverage of workouts; interviews with owners, trainers and jockeys; and event handicapping and analysis. With 13 hours of live simulcasting daily, TVG delivers core racing fans with a slightly male skew in more than 18 million homes nationwide, a spokesman says.

Sensing consumer attention, marketers themselves are paying heed, even if they target widely varied consumer groups. For example, Breeders' Cup sponsors range from Bessemer Trust Co. and corporate jet aircraft leasing company NetJets, to Alberto-Culver Co., Napa Auto Parts and Yum! Brands' Long John Silver's. Earlier this year, Diageo's Guinness brand signed on as the official imported beer of the Breeders' Cup. John Deere Co. has tied in with the NTRA both as a sponsor and a vendor for equipment.

BESSEMER makes a run

For a marketer like Bessemer Trust, a New York-based asset management company for people with net worth topping $10 million, the demographics of the Breeders' Cup are on target, says Rob Elliott, Bessemer senior managing director. Sponsoring the cup's juvenile division, Bessemer ran ads from Stickney Associates, Rockport, Mass., during the NBC and CNBC coverage. The ads highlighted the company's attributes of performance and strength-attempting to draw similarities between its values and those of horse racing and Bessemer clients, Mr. Elliott says.

"There are a lot of owners and breeders who match our market," he says. Another plus of sponsoring the 2-year-olds' juvenile division is that "2-year-olds sometimes turn out to be 3-year-olds in the Triple Crown."

Horse racing's growing female audience was too hard to pass up for Napa and its repair facilities, which target adults 25 to 54 with a decidedly female skew, says Allyson Estes, director-marketing communications. Another Napa sponsorship with "horsepower": Nascar driver Michael Waltrip. The Breeders' Cup "was an opportunity, a good media value," she says. "We're just dipping our toe in."

For many consumers, horse racing is more a sports and entertainment event than an opportunity to gamble, according to a fall 2001 NTRA consumer study.

People said they "would visit a track for a broader experience than just wagering," says the NTRA's Mr. Chamblin. Those activities included dining, socializing, taking in the atmosphere and being outdoors. "Wagering was a big part of it," he says, "but it was not the only part is what they were telling us."

Fans said they want variety in the atmosphere, he says, and tracks are upgrading their facilities to include and promote picnic areas and new dining facilities.

Racetracks are trying to lure a more mainstream audience by repositioning themselves with wider entertainment offerings than just pari-mutuel gambling. At Magna Entertainment Corp.'s Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., women's events, weekend concerts and family outings have been standard fare since the 1995 arrival of Director of Marketing David Rovine, who introduced sponsored concerts at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland in 1992.

Every Saturday and Sunday during the track's 16-week winter season, Gulfstream concerts feature classic rock and dance bands like the Commodores, Styx and Bryan Adams. The shows are sponsored by Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser and Papa John's International, Mr. Rovine says.

Attendance to the concerts comes with the paid track admission. Hoping to maintain balance between racing purists and newcomers there for the concert, Gulfstream positioned the concert stage away from the grandstands. The music plays between races, giving first-timers a chance to take in the act-and gamble between sets, Mr. Rovine says.

"You want to show them your product in action," he says.

Weekends also are host to Sunday Family Days, which include kids events and lighter jazz concerts. During the week, the track hosts six women's club events, bringing in speakers like Sigourney Weaver, Naomi Judd and Ivana Trump.

The target audience ranges from the mid-20s to baby boomers, Mr. Rovine says, adding, "We're a time-and-money product."

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