Anne M. Eberhardt

More Derby Fans Opting for One-Stop Packages

Travel packages take care of tickets, travel, hotel, and more for one price.

Most sports venues have clear reference points by which fans can gauge how their seats are oriented to the action. Fifty-yard line. End zone. Lower bowl. Behind the basket. Behind home plate. Along the first or third baseline.

At Churchill Downs, it is not so readily apparent. There is grandstand and clubhouse seating, but what floor and what section? Can I see the horses? Can I see the wire? Plus racing is an all-day commitment so what about concessions? Bathrooms? Where are the mutuel windows? And, what if it rains?

"Churchill is a fairly complicated venue," said Brian Learst, CEO of QuintEvents, which is in the business of making a trip to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) as uncomplicated as possible and delivering a good experience. "It is not like a football stadium, which most people understand what it's like. Churchill is not so easy to understand."

QuintEvents is the official ticket package provider for Churchill Downs, Breeders' Cup World Championships, and a number of other premium sporting events, such as the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship, which will be held Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The company has been selling travel packages for the Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) weekend for at least six years.

One of the original reasons Churchill contracted with QuintEvents was to address problems its customers were having with the secondary ticket market to its biggest events.

"When tickets are sold out and the secondary market is your only outlet, it can be risky," Learst said. "You never know if you will get a fraudulent ticket or even any ticket."

The travel packages have evolved since then toward improving the overall experience. Rather than spending time hunting down good deals individually on tickets, hotels, transportation, and scoping out other activities to do while in Louisville, an increasing number of fans are willing to pay to have everything arranged for them. For the Derby alone, Learst said his travel package business has more than doubled since he started.

Learst could not disclose exact numbers but said his company is provided with a few thousand seats in a variety of areas around the grandstand.

"It is a small percentage of the overall seating available, but it is a meaningful number," he said. "Our goal is to offer complete access and an elevated experience. It isn't for everyone, but we believe your experience at an event starts the moment you select your seating. It includes your travel to the event and through the event itself."

Packages offered by QuintEvents start at $799 per person and go as high as $10,000-$11,000 depending the location of the seats, the hotel selected, and the types of on-site hospitality desired. All packages have access to at least one of six hospitality centers throughout the track. These centers have seating and in some cases couches and tables. They all have food and beverage service, TVs, and automated tellers and or mutuel clerks. Learst described them as an oasis from the crowd or a cool place to relax on a hot, humid afternoon.

QuintEvents also can tailor a package for business clients, from the small businessman who only needs a box with six seats for his best customers to a corporation that may want to entertain 100 people.

"We can put them in the same lounge and have them all seated together," Learst said. "You don't have to wave goodbye at the gate and say, 'We'll see you at the end of the day.' We can sit as many as 600 or 700 people together. It improves the overall experience in a lot of ways. You are there because you want to spend time with your customers or reward your employees. You want to give them a place to go and not have to wait in line. It makes the experience that more rich."

A couple of new features have been added to experience this year. For one, QuintEvents is essentially taking over the Kentucky Derby Museum on Derby and Oaks day. During the races, it will become the Affirmed Lounge. When racing on Oaks day is done, the events company will host a "Fillies & Lilies Party" with Wynonna Judd and her band The Big Noise providing the entertainment. The party is open to 500-700 people and while access to the Affirmed Lounge is sold out, tickets to the party and concert are still available.

Another new section is the Sunny's Halo Lounge, which is a partially covered party deck atop the track's new Grandstand Terrace, a 2,400-seat expansion on the second and third floors that overlooks the Derby starting gate.

"The nice thing is there are only five rows of seats so views will be very good," Learst said. "It is a neat new place for people."