Zenyatta a Hit with Old and New Media

Zenyatta’s quest for racing immortality in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday, November 6, will be followed closely by millions around the world.  Lucky for the Big Mare and her connections, horse racing has promotional feet planted in both media worlds.

“Old” media – television, print, radio and billboard – have been showing Zenyatta a lot of love in the lead up to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Championships at Churchill Downs.  This is not surprising since Zenyatta is not only seeking a second consecutive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but also her 20th lifetime win without a loss.  The combination of these two simultaneous attempts—played out on such a grand stage—is a story that many in the mainstream press are watching with great interest.  Best of all, some of the top stories are from media outlets not known for their coverage of horseracing or even sports.

For example, Oprah included Zenyatta in her 2010 “O Power List of Personalities” in the October issue of O.   Yes, that’s right.  Zenyatta made Oprah’s short list of the 20 most influential females in the world. But that’s not all.

Sports Illustrated, the highly respected mainstream sports weekly, will get into the act next week.  Senior Writer Tim Layden is working on a feature story about Zenyatta and her connections in advance of the Championship Days on Friday and Saturday.  That the story is appearing in SI prior to the event makes it all the more valuable for driving attention and viewership to the Breeders’ Cup.

And perhaps most notable of all, CBS News’ award-winning TV news magazine program “60 Minutes” will devote one of its main segments to Zenyatta this Sunday evening, October 31.  The correspondent for the Zenyatta segment will be 26-time Emmy award winning journalist, Bob Simon, who spent a considerable amount of time with Zenyatta. Not bad company for a 6-year-old from California.  With an audience that regularly swells to 15 million viewers, 60 Minutes will introduce Zenyatta to yet another new audience of potential horseracing fans.        

This type of pre-event coverage is priceless.   In the old days, penetrating the mainstream media alone would have been a worthy goal and achievement.   But in an age of evolving technology and expanded fan engagement options, it’s not enough to promote via traditional media outlets only.  To reach the broadest spectrum of fans, it is critical to also utilize online platforms.  Fortunately, horse racing is well positioned to take advantage of the many and varied new media opportunities out there.

Our content-driven, data-rich sports entertainment business is a good fit for Internet-based publication and promotion.  One need look no further than the New York Times’  “The Rail” microsite to see firsthand how traditional media is redefining its content and delivery in the age of new media. Not only is horse racing being aggressively  marketed and promoted  via websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like, but fans can legally wager via the Web on sites like TVG.com.  This combination gives our fans the unique ability to both watch and wager at their convenience.  It is “interactivity” taken to the next level. No other sports fans in America can enjoy a similar experience.  

Because of her constant online presence over the past two years, Zenyatta is no stranger to racing fans around the globe.  This fact was confirmed on a recent NTRA Live! webcast of the Vanity Stakes from Hollywood Park when fans from 38 countries joined the broadcast to view the race live over the Internet and chat with other fans about the race. Every continent except Antarctica was represented.  The reach of Zenyatta’s celebrity is no doubt driven by her accessibility online.

Adding further to Zenyatta’s online presence is the Breeders’ Cup’s new  iPhone App.  With the App, iPhone and iPad users will be able to watch live video of all 14 Championship races over the two-day period.  And right now, you can access information about past winners and current contenders.  There is also a video vault dating back to 1984, ticket information, wagering information and even a Twitter feed to keep you up-to-date on all that is happening as the big weekend approaches.   It’s a great way to put a lot of information at your fingertips.  Kudos to the folks at Breeders’ Cup for developing yet another way to make their event – and the champion mare Zenyatta - as easily watched and wagered on as possible.

All of the attention paid to Zenyatta and her quest for perfection over the past nine months has established her as the undisputed focal point of this year’s Breeders’ Cup event.  Virtually everyone watching the Classic will be wondering whether they are about to witness history in the making.  This bodes well for handle, attendance and TV ratings.

Regardless of the outcome on November 6, however, Zenyatta and her connections have already done so much for racing by drawing such positive attention to our sport through both traditional and non-traditional media channels.  But none of the above would matter without the incredible passion of our fans.  They have embraced and engaged with the Zenyatta story in ways that would probably have been impossible as recently as five years ago.  Zenyatta’s fans have provided us all with a heightened appreciation for the potential of new media.  In some respects, this may prove to be one of Zenyatta’s greatest legacies where horse racing is concerned.           

How about you?  How will you watch the Breeders’ Cup Classic? What do you think Zenyatta’s legacy will be?  Will she win the Classic and retire undefeated?  Does it really matter given all that she has already accomplished?  Let me hear from you.
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