Will new marketing schemes pay off for stud farms?

by | 01.24.2013 | 10:24am

As mare owners browse more than 2,000 Thoroughbred stallions looking for that perfect match, stallion farms have become more creative about how they attract–and keep–their clients' attention.

Most breeders say a hot young stallion generates enough buzz in his first couple of years at stud to fill his books. By year three or four however, most of the buzzing has moved on to fresh blood, and a lower- to mid-level young horse has difficulty attracting the ladies.

To combat this problem, farms have implemented marketing techniques that get their horses noticed at minimal cost. They have also launched breeding incentive programs to keep mares coming back to their breeding sheds.

Advertising has moved away from the expense of using full-page print ads, and toward direct or lower-cost alternatives. One stallion on a limited marketing budget is Wintergreen Stallion Station's new sire Bullet Train, who is a three-quarter brother to Frankel.

“At the Keeneland [January] sale, we were handing out envelopes to buyers of mares that nicked well with him,” said Sean Feld, head of marketing and sales for Bullet Train. “We're trying not to spend an obscene amount of money. What we did at the sale was relatively inexpensive, and generated some buzz.”

WinStar Farm placed a Bodemeister billboard on New Circle Road in Lexington for the entire month of January, spending less than it would have cost to run a full-page print advertisement. The sign was aimed at reaching the attendees of Keeneland's January Horses of All Ages Sale who would have otherwise seen the information on the page of a trade publication.

Others have upped their participation in social media. Feld launched Twitter and Facebook accounts for Bullet Train, in an attempt to reach the increasing number of breeders using the platforms.

“I want to be more interactive. Bullet Train has fans worldwide,” said Feld. “I probably know about ten breeders that are on [Twitter], and I'm hoping that in the next couple of years, it'll turn into 1,000 breeders. [Right now] Facebook is more likely to get seasons sold.”

Taylor Made Farm prefers direct marketing, according to stallion nomination manager Travis White. The farm, also known for its sizable sales division, maintains a detailed database with contact information and buying activity for its customers, and sends emails or print materials straight to its target audience.

This month, Darley launched an eBay-style auction called Bid For Glory, (also referred to as “eNeigh”) for seasons in Medaglia d'Oro, Lonhro, and Hard Spun. The auction is open to any breeder with a mare under the age of 18 who has delivered at least one live foal.

Once breeders attract the attention of mare owners, many offer incentive programs to keep stallions' books full past their first two years at stud.

Spendthrift created the first program designed to stave off this drop in business with Share the Upside. Breeders booking to a new stallion for two years could pay a fee that guaranteed them future lifetime breeding rights. Those rights could be sold by the breeder. Bloodstock agent Tom Clark said the ongoing program has the potential to pay off in a big way, as it has in the case of Into Mischief.

The son of Harlan's Holiday entered stud in 2009 for a $12,500 fee. After a stellar freshman year in 2012, Into Mischief's stud fee has increased to $20,000 in 2013. Suddenly, Clark says, program participants are sitting on a profitable lifetime breeding right. While he had been selling Into Mischief for well under his $10,000 fee in 2012, the demand has grown so high that he estimates lifetime breeding rights to be worth around $70,000.

Other farms, including Darby Dan Farm and Taylor Made Farm have launched similar programs for select stallions. This year, breeders to Bullet Train have the chance to purchase lifetime breeding rights, gaining up to seven bookings within the sire's first four years at stud.

In another move designed to attract mares for unproven young sires, Spendthrift also started its Breed Secure program. Commercial breeders are not required to pay their stud fee until after they make a baseline profit at auction.

“What we're recognizing there is that somebody, in choosing to breed to an unproven horse, is taking a little bit of risk,” said Spendthrift general manager Ned Toffey. “If the horses aren't well-received at sale, if they don't run, the breeder is going to have a foal that's more limited in marketability because of the timing. Basically what we're saying is that we're going to take that risk with you.”

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