Breeders' Cup rides a star horse's popularity to stellar performance

Every year the Breeders' Cup, an annual horse-racing meet that attracts the best thoroughbreds from all over the world, seeks to find an appealing story to promote itself.

Client Breeders' Cup (Lexington, KY)

PR agency Conover Tuttle Pace (Boston)

Campaign 2010 Breeders' Cup World Championships 

Duration Sept. 2010-Nov. 6, 2010

Budget $60,000

Every year the Breeders' Cup, an annual horse-racing meet that attracts the best thoroughbreds from all over the world, seeks to find an appealing story to promote itself. For the 2010 event, Conover Tuttle Pace was also charged with increasing awareness among an audience beyond horse-racing enthusiasts.

"Horse racing is not necessarily on the general public's radar," says Conover AE Jenna Browning in explaining the firm's challenge.

Strategy

Fortunately, says Browning, there was a natural story to build around - Zenyatta. The filly entered the Classic, the Cup's marquee race, unbeaten in 19 races. To add drama, she was taking on an all-male field.

Beyond her on-track prowess, Zenyatta's personality and antics had a knack for charming everyone from race crowds to 60 Minutes, which ran a feature on her before the race.

Tactics

A pitch was crafted to appeal to newspapers, magazines, and TV networks. "Team Zenyatta" was conceived to speak for the horse, led by her jockey Mike Smith, who gave interviews to media ranging from ESPN to CNN. Social media strategy included Twitter and Facebook updates, a dedicated Zenyatta microsite, as well as iPhone and iPad apps.

Results

The first weeks of the campaign generated 10,000-plus media stories. The Breeders' Cup Facebook page increased to 8,400 fans, while Twitter followers increased to 3,900. Ticket sales hit a record $11.4 million, up 40% from the previous year. Event revenue was up 24% from 2009, while the TV broadcast of the Cup drew 24.3 million viewers.

Future

"America has a big appetite for big stories," says Peter Rotonodo, VP of media and entertainment at the Breeders' Cup. Thanks to Zenyatta, who eventually lost the race by a nose, the organization satis-fied that hunger.

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