MJC President Defends Preakness Campaign

Kegasus campaign designed to promote infield part on Preakness Day.

The president of the Maryland Jockey Club said Preakness Stakes weekend is the most important component of the organization’s bottom line and that the controversial “Kegasus” campaign is part of an effort to make the event a success.

“Preakness weekend is the most significant and major component to the bottom line of the Maryland Jockey Club,” MJC president Tom Chuckas said April 1. “On a two-fold premise, with premise ‘A’ being the financial responsibility I have, it is imperative that the infield is filled with people who are out there to enjoy themselves, but it is a bottom line issue. We need people in the infield to help our bottom line.”

Earlier this week, MJC unveiled the “Kegasus” promotion of the infield festivities at the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico.

This year’s “Kegasus” campaign to promote the infield party consists of a mascot—a centaur that is half horse, half man--as the campaign’s spokesperson.

The campaign has been criticized by some, including one Maryland state legislator. Maryland Delegate Pat McDonough said he is disgusted with the campaign and that Kegasus is infantile and creates a negative image.

Chuckas said the campaign, developed by the firm Elevation, cost less than $400,000. The MJC leader said the cost was kept to a reasonable level because MJC is “frugal in how we buy and where we buy” advertising placement. Also, he said Elevation “understands our financial picture as well as anybody, so we do it as effectively and inexpensively as we possibly can.”

According to an audited financial statement released earlier in the day, Pimlico had non-wagering revenues of $8 million during the last eight months of 2010, largely due to Preakness weekend. In 2009, non-wagering revenue at Pimlico dropped to $7.9 million from $10.6 million the previous year after MJC changed its policy to prohibit patrons from bringing their own alcohol into the infield. To help recoup some of its lost infield attendance and sales, Pimlico instituted a special beer pricing plan for the infield last year and this year.

The audited financial reports showed Laurel, Pimlico, and its off-track betting facilities lost $6.9 million during the last eight months of 2010, compared with an operating loss of $14 million for all of 2009.

Chuckas said that the Kegasus promotion is only one of several that will be undertaken to advertise different aspects of the Preakness experience. He said that at the racetrack on Preakness day, there are seven or eight different areas that cater to different demographics.

“They are all very diverse and have different clientele for each area and different marketing,” Chuckas said. “Obviously, in short order we will run out a campaign on the elegance of the Preakness, plus the tradition of the Preakness and the pageantry and the history. That type of advertising appeals to a certain demographic.

"Kegasus’ goal is to promote a party. We view it as the ‘peoples’ party.’ There is a lot of entertainment value in the infield. That demographic is between (the ages of) 21 and 35 or 40. Kegasus is targeted specifically for the infield fest. Come, enjoy the races, have a good time. We want a party but we still want civility and harmony for our neighbors who are out in the infield.”

Chuckas said an added bonus of providing an atmosphere catering to a younger demographic is the possibility of some of those patrons returning to MJC properties later. He said tracking reports done last year showed more patrons in the 25-30 age range attending races at Laurel Park later in the year.

The Maryland Jockey Club is owned by MI Developments and Penn National Gaming.