VISA WINS AT RACES: TRIPLE CROWN INVOLVEMENT RAISES AWARENESS

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Visa usa is on a two-year lucky streak with its "Visa Triple Crown Challenge."

The credit card marketer will share some of the spotlight now on Real Quiet, the horse that on May 16 won the Preakness, after also winning the Kentucky Derby. If Real Quiet takes the Belmont Stakes June 8 -- and handicappers are favoring it to win -- the horse will have won all three races in the Triple Crown, and will receive a $5 million purse from Visa.

Visa was in the same position a year ago, but Silver Charm did not win the Belmont Stakes so Visa avoided the $5 million payout.

This year, Visa has significantly increased marketing and advertising surrounding the sponsorship. For the second year in a row, it's also conducting a related sweepstakes for Visa cardholders.

`UNCLUTTERED AREA'

"Horse-racing has turned out to be a very fresh and uncluttered area for us, and the sport is suddenly getting lots more attention and higher TV ratings," said Michael Lynch, Visa's VP-event marketing.

That's partly due to Visa, which is running a horse-racing-theme TV commercial touting the "Visa Triple Crown Challenge." BBDO Worldwide, New York, handles.

The related sweepstakes, offering free trips to next year's races, also is being heavily promoted. This year, US Airways and NationsBank have joined Visa in the "Go to the Races" promotion. FTD/Florists' Transworld Delivery Association continues a tie-in with Visa during the races for discounts on floral arrangements.

Horse-racing got another boost last month with the creation of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. An estimated $20 million TV and print campaign broke this spring via Merkley Newman Harty, New York.

The Lexington, Ky.-based NTRA is seeking major sponsors for upcoming broadcasts and events in telecommunications, retail, auto, and food and beverage categories, said Rick Baedecker, VP-advertising and marketing.

"Horse-racing may have been a quieter sport in the past," Mr. Lynch said, "but it's the most exciting 2 minutes in sports, and it seems that a lot of people are becoming fans."

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