SBJ/December 10 - 16, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Price tag for year of advertising on jockeys starts at $1M

Recent state regulatory approval gave jockeys at California horse racing tracks permission to join their NASCAR brethren as human billboards.

But if you want to buy a package from Jockeys Management Group, the new marketing consortium representing more than 80 percent of California's top riders, you'll have to pony up some big bucks. The agency, which counts Laffit Pincay Jr., thoroughbred racing's all-time winningest jockey, as a client, is asking for a minimum of $1 million annually, a big bet for an advertising medium unproven in the United States.

The practice of using jockeys as billboards is common in Europe, but California's Nov. 30 acceptance will be the first big trial in the U.S.

"It will be an important test of what works in [horse] racing, and it comes at a time when every sport is looking for incremental revenues," said Mike Trager, who has produced the Breeders' Cup telecasts for 18 years and is chairman of Clear Channel's TV division.

Two other imperatives are pushing the test. California is moving toward legalized home wagering, which should lead inevitably to a massive expansion of horse racing on television in the nation's most populous state.

The Jockey Guild also has a reason to make this work. It hopes to contribute funds raised from the advertising to its Disabled Jockeys Endowment Fund, which will run out of money by the end of next year without new revenue, according to the group's testimony in front of the California Horse Racing Board.

Former NFL player R.J. Kors, CEO of Jockeys Management Group, expects jockeys to join their motorsports, soccer, tennis and golf brethren as human billboards by February.

"Horses have always been marketed in this sport; we're going to start marketing jockeys," Kors said.

Sponsorship packages still being completed will be in the seven figures and pool rights instead of selling individual riders. Thus, individual races could have uniform signage on almost every jockey, Kors said.

"With more than 80 percent of the jockeys, a sponsor has a good chance that his logo will be in the winner's circle," said Kors, who initially is targeting the automotive, financial services and telecom categories.

Some sponsors, though, might want to associate their brands with a star jockey like Pincay or Gary Stevens rather than with the group. Sponsorships also will be offered in regional packages.

The California rule in its final form allows advertising, including tobacco and alcohol, on jockeys' attire. Advertising will also now be allowed on the jockeys' silks, which are controlled by the horse owner, as well as on saddle cloths, which are controlled by tracks, so the possibility exists for sponsor conflict.

The largest ads available will be 32 square inches on the side of a jockey's pants, with ad space also available on the back of the pants, on boots and leggings, and on turtlenecks. With cooperation from tracks, Kors hopes to sell sponsorship packages that include complimentary naming rights to important races and trackside hospitality that will include jockey schmoozes.

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