The surprise run that “I’ll Have Another” has had has certainly re-engaged the casual sports fan around horse racing. The stories not just of the horse, but of his jockey Mario Guttierez has placed the Sport of Kings once again at the crossroads. However unlike the past, the business planning around racing is better positioned to take advantage of the elusive Triple Crown better than ever before.
We caught up with Stephen Panus, Vice President, Communications for the NTRA/ABR (“America’s Best Racing”) to find out more about what’s planned should the golden moment arrive at Belmont in a short time, as well as what’s next for the business overall.
We all know of the rarity of having a Triple Crown winner, and suddenly we have one thrust upon us. What would it mean to the marketability of horse racing?
The impact of a Triple Crown contender – coming to the media capital of the world, New York City, for the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes – has captured the attention of the world. I’ll Have Another’s two amazing, scintillating come-from-behind victories has been an incredibly positive story that has shown the world the beauty, pageantry and passion of America’s Best Racing. Both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes had record crowds in attendance and the Television ratings and coverage by NBC Sports have been terrific to date. I’ll Have Another and jockey “Super” Mario Guttierez fever are in full-swing as national and international news media outlets, traditional and new digital media, are talking and writing about our sport across the globe.
So many of the recent success, like Big Brown, seemed so much larger than life. I’ll Have Another doesn’t seem to yet have the fervor. What will be done to maximize that marketing success in the buildup to Belmont?
With two weeks to go before the Belmont Stakes, interest in I”ll Have Another’s Triple Crown run is building.
America’s Best Racing is launching a strategic marketing initiative which will include the following elements: 1) “Uno Mas Mario!” t-shirts (see photo attached) will be distributed to celebrities, personalities and key media, fans on Belmont day, race tracks across the country, and to select casino’s hosting Belmont Stakes viewing parties in Las Vegas and Reno, NV; 2) 50,000 “Uno Mas Mario” hand-held placards will also be distributed on-site on Belmont Stakes day and to race tracks across the country; 3)a mobile cookie truck patrolling strategic Manhattan locations the week of Belmont handing out “Uno Mas Mario” cookies and offering Racing 101 wagering tutorials via America’s Best Racing handicappers; and 4) America’s Best Racing’s website: www.followhorseracing.com is the new fan-centric digital home for Thoroughbred racing and offers fans original and unique insider access and behind-the-scenes video content, and blogs from jockeys like Hall-of-Famer Gary Stevens, Rosie Napravnik, Chantal Sutherland and Joe Talamo. Our content is distributed and shared via partners like Cinesport (which distributes video and story content to 70 major newspapers across the country) and NBCsports.com, among others. Our video of Doug O’Neill watching the Preakness Stakes unfold has gone viral and has been shared with and used by national TV, web and other media outlets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HoLXKrxsxhg
How does the NTRA help in merchandising the stories around the horse in this special run?
We hosted a national media telephone conference this past week which featured guests: jockey Mario Guttierez; trainer Michael Matz of Union Rags; and trainer Dale Romans, trainer of Dullahan. This attracted media from across the globe and led to numerous stories and coverage for the personalities and the sport. We will hold another national media teleconference on Wednesday, May 30th with the guests being past Triple Crown connections Penny Chennery, Patrice Wolfson, Steve Cauthen, Billy Turner and Sally Hill. Additionally, we have helped facilitate interviews, are assisting NYRA with promotional efforts and continue to pitch an array of story angles around the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown.
Is there anything special in the digital space that we will see to capture the casual fan?
Horse racing has found its ideal medium in Twitter, a social media network tailor-made for the fast-moving and communal world of Thoroughbred racing. Top events in horse racing dominate trending on Twitter, both nationally and internationally; leading up to the Triple Crown, prep races such as the Bluegrass Stakes, the Florida Derby, the Spiral Stakes, the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial and other tent pole events swept Twitter trending. Immediately following the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 19th, horse racing related topics dominated Twitter, with eight of nine national trending topics pertaining to the Preakness (discounting the lead promoted trend.) Compare this to national trending immediately following the Wednesday’s finale of “American Idol,” which managed to take over four of nine Twitter trending topics. With the nation’s top three-year-olds captivating social media, horse racing has proved that it has a robust hold on the national psyche.
Additionally, America’s Best Racing, in conjunction with NYRA, has implemented a social media strategy to alert horseracing fans who failed to secure a ticketed seat to the 2012 Belmont Stakes that walk-up, day-of general admission tickets will be available (costs $10 for the grandstand and $20 for the clubhouse) focused around the concept of “I’ll Have Another chance to get to the Belmont.” Fun hashtags being used include: #BeAtBelmont and #HaveAnotherTicket. We also be sharing via social media, an on-line, printable “Uno Mas Mario!” placard that fans can print, share, and use for the big race, and are encouraging fans across the globe to host Belmont Stakes viewing parties and to introduce a new friend and fan to the great sport of Thoroughbred Racing.
Jockey “Super” Mario Guttierez’s star power has taken an amazing trajectory since the first Saturday in May. For example, for the week of May 15-21 Mario ranked #2 on the ESPN Cross-Sport Power Rankings behind only Kevin Durant, but ahead of LeBron James, Henrik Lundqvist and global soccer star Didier Drogba, among others.
Mario’s story is a true rags-to-riches journey that only Hollywood could script. He was days away from returning to Mexico due to not getting enough mounts to ride in the competitive California circuit when owner J. Paul Reddam followed a hunch and requested him to ride I’ll Have Another. The rest, as they say, is history. Mario is young (25-years old), bi-lingual, grounded and very likable, and has lived in Mexico, Canada (Vancouver, B.C.) and now the U.S.; all of this translates into multiple opportunities for sponsors on multiple touch points.
Regardless of a win, what is up-coming to further raise the profile of horse racing for the summer?
In the summer, we turn the attention to the second season of Thoroughbred Racing – the Road to the Breeders’ Cup, which culminates with the Breeders’ Cup World Championships (also televised by NBC Sports) at Santa Anita Park, CA on November 2-3. For the second year in a row, NBC Sports Group will broadcast summer racing from one of our premiere venues, Saratoga, beginning in July. And America’s Best Racing will continue to provide an insider’s view and offer fresh and original content to attract people to Thoroughbred racing. We will soon be introducing a new sports fantasy game, Major League Horse Racing, to guide casual fans through the season as well as to offer them a no-risk, user-friendly method to learn the intricacies of wagering .