‘Racing is Cool’: America’s Best Racing Tour Exceeding Expectations

by | 05.22.2013 | 2:46pm
A group of visitors to the ABRV don their jockey goggles on a night out in South Beach, Miami

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.'”

Friends pose for a photo outside the ABRV

Friends pose for a photo outside the ABRV

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.

Branded jockey goggles are a hit on the America's Best Racing Live tour

Branded jockey goggles are a hit on the America's Best Racing Live tour

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.

Visitors pose in front of the ABRV

ABR ambassadors pose in front of the ABRV

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.

  • salthebarber

    Congratulations to the ABR ambassadors. Keep up the great work.

  • Jeffrey

    The numbers are made to sound impressive. They aren’t when placed into a studied context.

    The industry has a long history of taking their fan base for granted and basically abusing it. That approach really has changed.

    The “target” audience is not going to return when the “everyday” treatment of fans is experienced on a regular Saturday.

    The real measure here is not turning people out for a handful of big days. It is turning people out on those regular Saturdays and occasional midweek outings.

    Oh, when is Fashion Friday planned for Aqueduct next January?

    Good grief.

    • salthebarber

      Then again, this is something positive the game is doing for the fans.

      Poor customer service is the single largest problem the game has in my opinion. It manifests itself in many ways. And for the most part, it doesn’t cost a lot to treat the customer better. One gets the feeling that horserace management doesn’t like or respect its customers. Maybe, the customers are too critical, but it is still the job of the industry leaders to turn it around.

      As a retired marketing professional who reads a few of these racing comment sections, I don’t see the commenters as being negative. I seen it as an opportunity to learn what is on their minds and find ways to make the game better. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I’d see a much more supportive audience. IT IS POSSIBLE.

      Look at the feedback from the Europeans in the recent drug scandal there. They defended European racing vehemently.

  • Mike

    Won’t increase handle by a dollar. Mickey Mouse approach by industry lightweights.

    • Jahura2

      Sorry, but I just dont understand all of the negativity about this. It cant hurt and at least they are trying something.I know things arent great in the industry but we have to be encouraged by any efforts made to increase visibility. As an old hardboot thiis is basically “no skin off my nose” and if it was to create any new lifetime fans, maybe a new owner here or there,thats a plus.

      • johnnyknj

        My negativity results from having heard the same positive spin about the NTRA’s hideous “Go Baby Go” campaign-which proved a total flop. They crowed about how it had brought racing to “top of mind” for many Americans. This right after the Triple Crown. That’s like saying tornadoes are “top of mind” for Oklahomans this week. Why is racing so quick and eager to congratulate itself on it’s anemic marketing efforts?

        • Jahura2

          Wow Johnny, you want to compare this meaningless discussion on how racing promotes itself to whats going on in the minds of the people of Oklahoma?., more power to you, I dont think I would have gone there.

          • johnnyknj

            I did not make that comparison. I used a little hyperbole to make a point that recent events are usually “top of mind” and serious marketers discount such research. Take it easy with the sanctimony.

      • NAFTA

        The point is that this kind of marketing has precious little ability per se–due to it’s limited weight and reach–to affect any measurable metric. In other words, it’s a waste of money vis-a-vis the amount of time and effort going into it. The money being spent on this by the JC could be better used going towards things that would have more demonstrable impact (HD cameras for the tracks, for instance). Just because “it can’t hurt” doesn’t mean that it is an effective use of resources.

    • Glimmerglass

      Mike, so what is your suggestion?

      This is a relatively cheap means of guerrilla marketing aimed at a new generation of would-be fans. As Jahura2 said ‘its no skin off the nose’ of the current fans, owners, trainers, and bettors. The ABR bus went an event like SXSW in Austin, TX which is worthy of praise to push the idea of an old sport to a tech crowd.

      • NAFTA

        Who said carting a bunch of co-eds around the country year-round in a custom RV is cheap? How many HD cameras would those salaries and expenses buy?

        • Glimmerglass

          I said relatively cheap.

          As for buying equipment like HD cameras, great, so you buy 2 of them – and then what? Loan them out like this some sort of farm cooperative for a track to use for a week then hand off to another? Marketing budgets and capital expenditures are vastly different investments.

          The RV is likely leased and the exterior “custom paint scheme” just a cling wrap used for many metropolitan buses with special ads.

  • rachel

    They don’t get questions about horse safety and drugs because the kids don’t know anything about horses or racing…yet…once they find out most animal lovers will ditch this sport.w
    Heck, even in my own horse community only one other person besides me still tries to love racing…

  • salthebarber

    It is positive service that the ambassadors provide for the game. They are off to a good start and maybe it will grow into something more significant. I am not against it when the game tries to do something positive for its fans. I was skeptical at first, but I think they have made some impact.

  • finsam

    Racing needs these people!!

  • William Koester

    Racing is cool, we all know that, but until we stop drugging the horses it we never be cool to people we are trying to bring into the sport. Just ask anyone them, do you think we should drug the horses before the race ?

  • Stephanie

    Well, as a baby boomer, I’m glad to see it’s not pointed towards me, because I was wondering whatever happened to America’s Best Racing. Heard of it in the Thoroughbred Times, then never again, and I frequent various horse sites and forums.

    I see its’ point and hope it does some good, but agree, let’s see it at smaller tracks and non-headline races.

  • David

    Makes you want to go out this weekend, roll a few games in the morning, go to the track in the afternoon and top it off with a double feature at the Drive-in. They’re trying and that’s a good thing but the fastest way to kill a bad product is though effective promotion.

  • Karen

    Johnny and Mike, what are your ideas for promoting horseracing?

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