SBJ/August 29 - September 4, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

Sponsor could unite four major events

Horse racing executives shopping for a title sponsor for the Triple Crown are eyeing the possibility of finding a single company to sponsor both the three-race event in the spring as well as the Breeders’ Cup in the fall, a move that would help unify the sport under one brand name.

Companies will be pitched on sponsoring the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.
Triple Crown Productions, the company jointly owned by the tracks that put on the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes — Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp. and The New York Racing Association, respectively — hired marketing firm Velocity Sports & Entertainment to find a new sponsor by early 2006. Visa, which held the title sponsorship for 10 years, relinquished it this year.

Ed Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, said the company is seeking a five-year sponsorship agreement and has a price tag for the package. He said the property is seeking an increase over the value of Visa’s last five-year deal, which one source put at between $20 million and $25 million.

Seigenfeld would not comment on the value of the last deal or the price Triple Crown is seeking for the new, five-year package.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, horse racing’s league office and owner of the Breeders’ Cup, is assisting Triple Crown and Velocity in the search for a sponsor.

“They are with us in this project,” Seigenfeld said. “The clients that are in the NTRA fold, some of them, would perhaps fit well in the Triple Crown.”

In addition to owning the Breeders’ Cup, the NTRA produces 140 hours of horse races throughout the year, which air on ESPN, ABC and NBC, including stakes races leading up to the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup.

“It would be better for us and better for the sport and better for a sponsor to get involved on a year-long basis,” said Chip Campbell, NTRA senior vice president of television and sponsorship. “We are going to vet our sponsors and find out what the interest level is, and if the interest level is significant, we will get together with [Velocity] and see if it makes sense for both parties.”

Seigenfeld agreed that finding a sponsor for both events would be good for the sport, but cautioned that that may not be possible.

The NTRA and Breeders’ Cup sponsors include FedEx, Citgo, John Deere, Grey Goose Vodka, Alberto Culver, Guinness and Dodge. Dodge’s three-year sponsorship ends after this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park in October. Dodge sponsors the most important division in racing and the Breeders’ Cup’s top race — The Classic — which pits the best older horses in the country against one another.

Of taking the Triple Crown title sponsorship, Julie Roehm, director of marketing for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, said, “We would consider it. I can’t tell you we would do it, but we have a very good relationship with the NTRA. We would consider any new idea that they brought to us.”

Dodge’s sister company, Chrysler, was the first sponsor of the Triple Crown, from 1988 to 1995. Roehm said Chrysler gave up the Triple Crown sponsorship because it didn’t fit in with marketing goals the company had at the time.

Roehm said Dodge recognizes that the Triple Crown is one of “the premier events” in American sports, but that the company would get involved only at the right price. She noted that what Dodge likes best about its NTRA sponsorship is that it has gotten a return on its investment through the NTRA’s group purchasing program.

The NTRA has 13 employees who help sell NTRA sponsor products and services to the roughly 450,000 people employed in the horse racing industry on tracks and farms nationwide. “Last year they sold about $70 million of sponsors’ products into the industry, and this year we think that will be closer to $100 million,” said the NTRA’s Campbell.

Harlan Stone, Velocity principal who is overseeing the sponsorship search, would not comment on whether the agency has already had talks with Dodge or its parent, DaimlerChrysler, about sponsoring the Triple Crown. But he said, “We will be sure to explore it. I think, from our perspective, if you are invested in the sport, why wouldn’t you take a serious look at the most important event in the sport.”

More than a half dozen corporations have already inquired about the Triple Crown sponsorship in the two weeks that Velocity has been working on the project, Stone said. “We have had probably six to eight … legitimate conversations about it,” he said.

The sponsorship is up for sale at the same time that the Triple Crown races will be broken up on two networks. NBC will broadcast the Derby and the Preakness, but the Belmont Stakes is moving to ABC starting next year. Some industry experts have said that the fact that the event will be on two networks will hurt the sponsorship search, but Stone said it won’t, noting that being on different networks hasn’t hurt the NFL.

Additionally, Visa, although it has given up its Triple Crown sponsorship, has still retained a sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby. Stone said the only limit that places on the search is that the title sponsorship won’t be sold to a credit card company. But he said Visa’s involvement is not a bad thing, as Visa will likely heavily promote the Derby, the first race in the Triple Crown.

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