SBJ/Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2013/In Depth

With ‘Mansion’ a hit, Churchill turns to infield

The Monday morning after this year’s Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery’s phones were ringing from people who had paid one of the highest ticket prices in sports to watch the legendary race in “The Mansion.”

The ultra premium area, where low-end tickets started at $7,000 a person, was filled with sports celebrities, entertainers and CEOs. This was the first year for The Mansion, which seats about 300 and offers gourmet food, concierge service and one of the best views of the track.

A rendering shows the planned video board towering over the infield.
Photo by: CHURCHILL DOWNS
“It was a grand slam,” Flanery said of year one of the project, part of a $9 million renovation.

“We had messages on our phone of people wanting to renew and extend their deal. Selling The Mansion is not one of the things that keeps me up at night,” he said.

What does keep him up is finding a way to improve the overall experience for everyone who attends the annual race, which is run the first Saturday in May and attracts as many as 165,000 people. So Churchill Downs, in the last few months, has launched several initiatives at a cost of $27 million aimed at ramping up the experience for everyone at the track.

While The Mansion is at the high end of the Kentucky Derby experience, on the other end of the spectrum is the infield, where about 60,000 people watch the race. Tickets for the area sold for as little as $40 this year.

Earlier this month, Churchill announced plans to put in a 15,224-square-foot, high-definition video board, which the track is installing in partnership with Panasonic. When it is completed, in time for next year’s Derby, it will be larger than the video boards at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“The most common thing you hear from people is, ‘I went to the Derby and I never saw a horse,’” Flanery said. “We are going to solve that, because we are going to put in place one of the world’s largest televisions. The infield customers, they are going to have one of the best seats in the house, because of this new television.”

Churchill also announced plans to upgrade the facilities and amenities for 37 percent of the more than 50,000 permanent seats, as well as install 2,400 new seats. When the project is completed, the track will have 55,638 seats and 51,000 square feet of new space. The renovation will include a new “Rooftop Garden” area that will feature table seating and a VIP lounge, Flanery said.

“One of the most important parts of the Kentucky Derby is the start of the race,” Flanery said. “So we are creating a VIP garden area right at the starting gate. People will be able to see the horses load, break from the gate, and see them when they turn for home, which is probably the most pivotal point in the race for many people.”

Additionally, the renovation will include a new, 10,000-square-foot food and beverage plaza. Churchill Downs, which opened in 1875, is also upgrading areas of the track that have been untouched for six decades, including installing nine new restrooms and state-of-the-art wagering areas.

For Churchill, it is a continuing process. The track has invested more than $160 million in new construction and renovations since 2001.

“What we are focused on is anyone who is at the track has a great time,” he said.

“We want everyone who leaves to say, ‘That was fun.’”

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