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Saturday, October 28, 2006

ESPN To Rally To Promote the Cup

- Seems as if this little blogosphere is finally stirring up a little reaction. There's some lively discussion of ESPN's promotional efforts for the Breeders Cup over at Curb My Enthusiasm, sparked by a poster who called himself Bernardini, but sounded more like an industry insider.

And I received an email from Chip Tuttle, a marketing consultant to NTRA, and a partner in the Boston-based public relations firm Conover Tuttle Pace, which handles PR for an interesting array of clients. Mr. Tuttle, who at one time served as the vice president of communications at NTRA, sent along what he emphasized is just a partial list of promotional efforts we can expect this week.

ESPN is running a significant promo schedule of :30's and :15's that started last week and will continue thru next week, including some scheduled for major prime time programming. It is more GRP's (gross rating points) than BC would otherwise buy in national TV.

There will be extensive promotion on the Thurs West Va-Lville game, including Chris Fowler and other BC talent. We're also lighting Churchill Downs for the night and there will be several shots from Papa John's Stadium back to CD with promo info.

There will be feature coverage beginning Tues on SportsCenter, ESPN News and other areas as well as interviews and features in PTI, ESPN Radio, ESPN Motion, 360 and others.

We know for passionate racing fans there's no such thing as enough, but by next Saturday's one-hour SportsCenter at the Breeders' Cup (the last hour of the telecast), I would wager that you'll be impressed with ESPN's commitment. It is more than the event was getting from its previous network partner. And I should mention that via ESPN we are hitting a much younger demo than previously.

As for other national marketing, banner and rich media campaigns on major sports web sites (CBS Sportsline, Yahoo! And AOL Sports), national print (USA Today) and major market print (LA/NY), national and major market radio support are all either recently underway or kicking into gear next week. Add what the major tracks and simulcasts partners are spending and it should be enough to drive awareness and handle.
Mr. Tuttle also told me that there would be a Breeders Cup button on the ESPN front page up today, and I don't see that up as of yet, which I'm sure is just as frustrating for him as it is for me. But I presume it will be up soon, and he wrote that "one week out is nice exposure and consistent with what they do for other properties. We've got run-of-site banners all week, both tune-ins that ESPN created and used their own promotional inventory to run as well as some stuff we did (re-formatting the Bernadini-Lava Man poster)."

This all comes as good news to be sure; it's great to see that ESPN will utilize their various programming and outlets to promote the telecast. Personally, I probably won't see most of it, since other than baseball, horse racing, and the occasional snippet of a Monday Night football game or Sports Center, I don't find myself watching ESPN much. Especially when I'm handicapping the Breeders Cup.

That doesn't matter in my case, because the chances are pretty damn good that I'll watch the telecast anyway. But that's why, as impressed as I am about the coming promotions, I still would like to have seen a longer-term effort to create awareness of the event and of the fact that it will be on ESPN. People who, like myself, watch ESPN mostly for baseball may not know that the network is carrying the races. NBC used to run filler spots in which they would promote all of their top properties, and it was nice to hear "Home of the Breeders Cup" in the same breath as the World Series or Super Bowl; I thought it helped to associate the event with the network. I haven't yet seen a similar effort on ESPN.

Now, Mr. Tuttle makes a fair point to be sure when he wrote that "for passionate racing fans there's no such thing as enough." I do tend to quibble and wonder why, for example, there aren't links from the ESPN website to the excellent work that NTRA has done on the Breeders Cup website; or why the network couldn't clear one lousy hour of the 2006 International Speed Pool Challenge (I kid you not) on ESPN2 so they could carry that afternoon's Wire to Wire at The Breeders' Cup in prime time (jeez!). But the truth is, I suppose, that I wouldn't be truly satisfied unless Dan Patrick did Sports Center decked out in Godolphin's jockey silks.

But it's one thing to market a telecast, which I fully expected ESPN to eventually do, and another to market the game. The latter is NTRA's job, and it's a subject on which the passionate bloggers of the TBA and all of our readers would love to have their attention. One thing I've written about on this site is what I think is the importance of trying to get people not only to watch, but to participate as well. Here's one simple idea. You pick out a couple of the most competitive BC races and have Kenny Mayne tell viewers that they can compete for prizes by going to, registering, and picking, with online advice and help, the first, say, five finishers in order. Prizes can range from a free month of ESPN Insider for picking the winner, a subscription to their magazine for getting the exacta, and up to something more valuable for picking five in order. That way, in one fell swoop, you get people to watch with a rooting interest and get a taste of the action, even if for a modest prize. NTRA also gets their email addresses with which to follow up and try to get them to the track. ESPN makes money when people forget to cancel their "free" trials and start getting monthly charges on their credit card. That's my idea of the two organizations working together and fusing their respective resources for mutual gain.

That's just one idea; Patrick has his point standings, Ruben Bailey is off to Louisville to demonstrate the role that the blog itself can play in marketing the sport; and on any given day one can read words of wisdom from any of the member blogs. But that's it for the free advice from me. Anyone can email me here to hire me for the big six figure job to hear more. In the meantime, I do appreciate the input and interest from Chip Tuttle, I'm glad to have the chance to present his point of view and welcome any future comment.


Michael said...

Great summary of where we are now Alan, good job.

Also, I'll be in Louisville too, although I won't have access to my computer during the races (thank god I'm not working, I can enjoy myself), so I'll gave to give the typical before and afte posts that most non-access blogger have.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't seen it already, NTRA has wallpaper images of the poster and a small write-up. I saw it framed at the local track (ASD) yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear ESPN is at least planning something. Agree the task of promoting the sport falls on the NTRA, not ESPN, a mandate that they seem to have forgotten.