Dodge Ball
by Ray Paulick
Date Posted: 6/24/2003 10:16:23 AM
Last Updated: 6/24/2003 10:25:57 AM

Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief

The addition of two major corporations as sponsors for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is a strong indication the Thoroughbred industry is moving in the right direction.

Dodge and Nextel, whose sponsorship and group purchasing agreements were announced on June 23, join John Deere, Bessemer Trust, and NetJets as marketing partners and Breeders' Cup race sponsors. Other sponsors are Alberto-Culver, FedEx, Guinness, and SEGA.

The NTRA's original business plan put a major emphasis on sponsorships and group purchasing, and the organization now is clicking on all cylinders in this area--especially when you look at where national sponsorships in racing were just over five years ago when the NTRA came into existence. But the NTRA and Breeders' Cup cannot guarantee the continued success of the program. They need broad support from within the industry, including racetracks, owners, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, and in some cases, fans.

Corporations participate in sponsorships and group purchasing because they want a solid return on their investment. With viewership up on many racing telecasts, advertising spots by NTRA and Breeders' Cup sponsors should be viewed by enough eyeballs to heighten awareness and sell products or services.

But they need more than that. These deals will only work if the industry pitches in. That means when it's time to replace their cars and trucks, NTRA member racetracks and farms should work through NTRA Purchasing to get a deal from Dodge, the new title sponsor of the Road to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on ESPN and of the Breeders' Cup Classic. When their cell phone contracts are up for renewal, all NTRA members, including those who joined the Go Baby Go program for just $25, should strongly consider a switch to Nextel. Chances are NTRA Purchasing will get them as good a deal or a better one than they can get with another wireless company. And all things being equal, isn't it better to support a company that is putting money into racing?

That's how it works in NASCAR. Fans are extremely loyal to the many sponsors the sport attracts, which is one reason NASCAR has had such phenomenal growth. Nextel liked what it saw with NASCAR, recently agreeing to put up $700 million over a 10-year period to put its name on the season-long series formerly sponsored by a tobacco company.

JOCKEY SPONSORSHIPS

The NTRA's newest sponsors were announced just weeks after a brouhaha emerged involving Triple Crown sponsor Visa and three jockeys who were paid to wear corporate logos on their riding britches in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Visa clearly wasn't happy to share the Belmont winner's circle sponsorship spotlight with jeans manufacturer Wrangler, who paid Jerry Bailey upwards of $20,000 to wear the company logo.

That's good for Bailey, but it might not be good for companies that are putting far more sponsorship money into racing and do not want to be the victims of what is known as "ambush marketing." It should be said the jockeys and their marketing agent followed all the rules of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board regarding advertising.

Race sponsors might not be the only ones who object to jockeys making a little extra money by wearing a company's logo on their pants. What if Southern California Budweiser distributor and prominent owner Bob Lewis showed up in the paddock at Hollywood Park one day and saw his jockey wearing a logo for another beer company? It's likely you would see either a change of pants or a change of jockeys.

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