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Board’s scale, programming to change Churchill

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This year’s Kentucky Derby will redefine the fan experience in horse racing, thanks to the track’s massive new video board, say officials with Churchill Downs and Van Wagner Big Screen Network, the board’s content provider.

Over the past weekend, the track was to unveil its new $12.5 million video screen package during a Derby Day preview. The centerpiece is the world’s largest 4K video screen, produced by Panasonic.

The new board will connect Derby-goers with activities around the expansive facility.
Photo by: CHURCHILL DOWNS

Its position midway along the backstretch provides a direct line of sight to the screen for all 165,000 Derby ticket holders, stretching from those in the infield, some only 160 feet from the board, to others sitting in the grandstands a half-mile away.

“It’s going to be a stadium-type experience … 70-foot-high horses on the screen, going into the starting gate … coming down the stretch [and] galloping across the finish line,” said Churchill Downs
CEO Bob Evans. “It’s going to be a very interesting way for people to see horse racing.”

The board’s 4K technology is cutting edge, one step ahead of HD screens at many sports venues. But what also drove the project was the ability for the screen to connect fans with other Derby-related activities at the 147-acre facility, said Ryan Jordan, Churchill Downs’ general manager.

The sheer logistics of navigating the expansive property prevent many ticket holders from attending ancillary events such as the fashion shows that are such a big part of the Derby experience. The new video board will help bring them closer to those activities, Jordan said.

Van Wagner Big Screen Network, the same firm that works with the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and the Olympics, worked closely with Churchill Downs marketers to develop exclusive content for the big board.

Together, they plan to activate the board in much the same way as major league teams do for game-day entertainment to develop a fully immersive experience at an event covering about a dozen races over the course of several hours.

“The goal was to add to our compelling story with specific content,” Jordan said. “Other sports have so much live event coverage. For us, it’s a two-minute race followed by a one-hour gap. The big board creates a large focal point to better entertain our customers.”

The intent is to engage fans by using tools such as the Stella Artois Fan Cam, named for the Derby sponsor, and live cutaways to follow video crews roaming the track to interview celebrities in private spaces such as Millionaires Row and the Turf Club.

The strategy will extend to the Kentucky Oaks, the race for fillies held the Friday before the Derby. The Longines Kentucky Oaks Fashion Contest is one example of an event that will be produced live on the board, Jordan said.

“In the NBA, you look up [at the center-hung] and expect it,” said Chris Allphin, a Van Wagner vice president. “In horse racing, they’re not used to it. Between races, you walk to the clubhouse and buy a hot dog. The sheer magnitude of this board is going to change things dramatically.”

The board will not show commercials because track officials believe fans would tune out over a 30-second ad, Jordan said. Instead, it’s more about creating branded content tied to the event’s rich history, fashion and lifestyle to capture their attention during racing breaks, he said.

To capitalize on social media during Derby Day, the video board will incorporate technology provided by The Famous Group, a California software developer, to display images provided by attendees on Instagram and Twitter, Jordan said. The NFL used the same social media platform during the Super Bowl.

The strategy for investing in the monster board extends beyond Derby Day to the roughly 80 race days at the track over the course of the year, Jordan said.

Churchill Downs, like other tracks, is doing its best to attract a new breed of racing fans, specifically the millennials more in tune with racing’s social aspects than betting on the horses. “We’re trying to find new racing fans,” Jordan said. “The video board helps transform the track into an entertainment realm revolving around food and fashion.”


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