This past Saturday was the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby. The last few years the Derby has embraced social media and a variety of avenues to reach new audiences, including new TV networks such as Bravo and Versus. So how are they doing in terms of results from marketing this premier event in Thoroughbred racing?
Several years ago Churchill Downs hired marketing agency Cramer-Krasselt to focus on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks brands. So the organization has dedicated some serious resources to improving their marketing, a good sign despite economic and racing industry troubles.
This year, Churchill Downs had record numbers for the event, with 164,858 attendees. The Nielsen organization reported that Triple Crown ‘buzz’ was way up in 2010 over 2009 (we’ll see if that held or continued for 2011). But, long-time undercard coverage on ESPN (which had provided race day coverage for 25 years) fell by the wayside, leaving outdoor network Versus to pick it up (and I thought overall they did a pretty good job).
The Daily Racing Form reported last fall that NBC renewed its contract to provide Derby coverage, but at a reduced fee due to lower advertising revenues following the recent recession; this contract runs through 2015.
John Canzano of The Oregonian says horse racing is ‘missing the mark’ in marketing the Derby and selling short the event’s history and tradition, and I think his points are worth considering but they do seem to be just his opinions. However, an article from the r2 Collective (a site run by ‘a group of racing fans and business professionals with a passion for new technologies, new marketing, and new media’) that was posted just after the 2010 Derby shows some actual statistics that are interesting.
The r2 Collective article shows that media mentions (called ‘reach’) were at an all-time high for the 2010 Derby, and that mentions in blogs and social media were primarily positive. These are all good signs, and confirm the Nielsen ‘buzz’ results mentioned above.
What does this all mean? Well, the Kentucky Derby could be at an interesting crossroads when it comes to event marketing. If popularity, attendance, and buzz continue to climb, when the NBC contract comes up for renewal in 2015 things could get interesting. Add in the possibility that the Derby might be held at night, during primetime, and things could get very interesting indeed.
The r2 Collective article points out that it takes 6 years and $60M to brand an event (numbers cited by marketer Mark Hughes). Whether true in the case of the Kentucky Derby or not, it shows the time and financial commitment it takes to build a brand. This is a race that has a 140th anniversary in 2014…I’m looking forward to seeing whether Churchill Downs can build on their recent momentum and capitalize on that anniversary to revitalize the Derby and make it a cultural phenomenon comparable to the Super Bowl.
How do you think Churchill Downs is doing in terms of marketing the Kentucky Derby? How do you feel about the current sponsors and advertisers? What should they be doing differently? Did your horsebiz do anything Derby-related? Share your opinions or any stats you find via the Leave a Comment link below!