I have had the pleasure to witness two Breeders’ Cup World Championships live, as an observer at Monmouth Park last year and as an active participant this year at Santa Anita. Leaving the breathtaking vista of the San Gabriel Mountains, I contemplated the decisions we made in the last 12 months and the short- and long-term implications for the Breeders’ Cup. Let me share some of those thoughts.
Creating Two Championship Days
There is zero doubt in my mind that we made the right decision by moving all the female races to Friday. While I respect the arguments from the traditionalists who preferred the original Breeders’ Cup races to remain on Saturday, consider this:
• In a scan of 10 of the top major media markets in the U.S., Zenyatta’s victory received nearly four times as much coverage as Ginger Punch’s win in 2007.
• In those same markets, Friday’s complete race card received about 10 times as much coverage as it did during the inaugural 2007 event.
• ESPN2’s rating for the last hour of the Friday races was 27% higher than it was for the same time period in 2007 and “SportsCenter” ran a 2-minute, 30-second spot feature that honored Zenyatta and set the stage for Saturday.
We drew more attention to the world’s best fillies and mares, attracted more fans to the sport, and helped create a rising star in Stardom Bound and a megastar in Zenyatta. Had Zenyatta run on Saturday, she surely would have shared the spotlight with Raven’s Pass and Curlin.
We didn’t get this one right. When we first looked at ticket pricing and locations with our partners at Oak Tree and Santa Anita, we focused on two core ideas:
• Offer fans a wide range of options.
• Develop pricing that was in line with other global championship events and other sports and entertainment events in the Los Angeles marketplace.
Our market analysis showed our pricing this year was clearly in line and in many cases lower than local teams like the Dodgers and Lakers and at parity with events like the Ryder Cup. And of course, when we finalized our ticket plans and pricing in March, the economy was much stronger.
That being said, in retrospect, I wish we had provided more lower-priced options for fans and for horsemen, and we also should have allowed more people to choose to come on one day rather than requiring the two-day purchase. We have made the commitment to address both issues in 2009.
Santa Anita, Round 2
We believe the Breeders’ Cup must reach more young people and grow exposure for the sport. This was part of our strategy, albeit unprecedented and controversial, to stay in Los Angeles two years in a row.
Based on the results in terms of attendance and media coverage, it seems like this strategy has been sound. The Los Angeles entertainment community embraced our event. The celebrity connection with this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships was featured for the first time in magazines like GQ, Marie Claire, People, US Magazine, Vanity Fair, and LA Confidential and on national television programs like “Access Hollywood” and “Extra.”
We had a wonderful blend of old and new Hollywood at the track, including stars from Emmy Award-winning programs like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Sopranos,” and “Entourage” to legends like Mel Brooks and a host of other “A List” celebrities including Pierce Brosnan, Dennis Hopper, Amy Adams, Mary-Kate Olsen, Allison Janney, and Kurt Russell. We were also fortunate to have representation from the sports world in Joe Torre (both days), Al Michaels, Avery Johnson, and several Olympic gold medalists. We were warmly embraced by California, as evidenced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attendance on Saturday.
In the world of brand development, one year does not a success make; however, I feel confident if we stay the course, we can expand the Breeders’ Cup brand and racing’s fan base here and abroad while preserving the traditions inherent in presenting championship racing at its best.
Peter Land is the chief marketing officer for Breeders’ Cup Ltd.