You might have caught a glimpse of America's Best Racing's brightly-colored RV at the Kentucky Derby, or stopped by the display to pilot an Equicizer along with other revelers on The Hill at Keeneland's April meet.
But if you're not part of the twentysomething party crowd, chances are you haven't encountered the ABRV or one of its six brand ambassadors yet.
Organizers say that's just fine.
The mobile tour, which is the first of its kind to promote the sport of horse racing, launched earlier this year and is already posting some impressive numbers capturing its impact, according to Kip Cornett of Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions in Lexington, Kentucky.
Although the tour's schedule, released earlier this year focuses on the RV's stops at racetracks, Cornett said it sets up in the home cities of major racetracks at bars, festivals, offices, and wherever else they think their target audience might be, to let people know that racing is in town. The RV has made 28 non-racetrack appearances so far this year, and four track appearances, where it has received rave reviews from track management.
“The racetracks enjoy what we do, but they don't have to put in the investment,” said Cornett, who said Keeneland asked the tour to come back for another, unscheduled weekend after its success on Toyota Blue Grass Day, and that NYRA has contacted him about sending the RV to a promotional event in Grand Central Station. “The whole message in its most simplistic form is that ‘racing is cool.' Racing should be part of your entertainment consideration set.'”
The focus on drawing Millennials (ages 18 to 35) into the sport is a cue taken from the 2011 McKinsey & Co report on “Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding.” It's also common sense for marketers, according to Cornett. Studies have shown that people in this age group are much more likely to be drawn to new sports, hobbies, and entertainment sources than those in the baby boomer demographic. If they latch on to a new interest at this age, they're also more likely to keep coming back throughout their lifetimes.
When a Millennial approaches the ABRV, they are greeted by one of six tech-savvy twentysomethings called brand ambassadors, who are lifelong fans of the sport. They have the chance to ride an Equicizer, and practice picking horses from a pre-recorded race in exchange for a branded pair of jockey goggles or drink koozie. Television screens are mounted everywhere with race replays. Ambassadors have iPads at the ready to capture email addresses for those who want to learn more.
The goggles, Cornett said, have become extremely popular.
To Cornett's surprise and relief, ambassadors have not been getting questions about horse safety and drugs in racing, which they had expected to encounter at some point.
Each facet of the experience encourages visitors to go to followhorseracing.com, where a barrage of articles and videos await, on everything from the biggest horses and humans in the game, to fashion, to gambling, to celebrities at the track. Many of the writers and featured subjects are in their twenties and thirties. The website is drawing more traffic than expected—32,000 individuals visited the site on Derby Day, and the number of daily unique visits quadrupled since a redesign on the site a few months ago.
The tour's six brand ambassadors are doing more than just chatting at parties and providing web content, too. Much of their time is spent researching the trends and social media influencers in the city they're headed to next. Major brands from skin cleansers to weight loss programs know that celebrity endorsements can be an effective means of attracting attention. So, ambassadors reach out to the people behind regionally popular Facebook and Twitter accounts, give them a good day at the races, and ask them to let their followers know they had a good time. Cornett calls these “alpha relationships” and says the campaign has generated about 500 of them.
Follow-up is also a big component of the ambassadors' job.
“I think the worst thing you can do is to have people go, ‘Oh that was really cool, I really enjoyed it,' and then you never speak to them, you've lost them. It's a very insincere relationship,” said Cornett.
Something about the campaign is working. In a few short months, the America's Best Racing Facebook page has over 14,000 likes, and its Twitter account (@ABRLive) boasts almost 12,000 followers: both totals that outmatch those of established insider trade publications. The novelty of the tour has also generated media interest, to the tune of an estimated $400,000 in free publicity. About five million people are thought to have spotted the RV both at its stops and along the interstate on the way to its appearances.
What all of these numbers translate to, however, are admittedly not a one-to-one correlation of impressions and die-hard racing fans, but that isn't the point of a campaign like this one, according to organizers. There is an almost immeasurable benefit to making the public more aware of racing's existence, and that is the likelihood of a passerby to become a first-time racegoer who comes for the party, and stays for the sport.
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