Jim Host Q & A: ESPN Sports Poll Results

Continued from part 1

Jim Host discusses his new contract with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to secure corporate sponsors for horse racing and the Breeders' Cup. The Lexington sports marketing pioneer also discusses why an ESPN Sports Poll shows most casual racing fans don't realize the Breeders' Cup is Thoroughbred racing's championship day.

Q: What other difference do you see between marketing horse racing and other major sports?

The other advantage of the NTRA is that we've got access to market to the owners, to the farms, to the audience. There is nothing else today that we can do a direct mail target to a million people like you can with the NTRA. You can't do it with colleges because we don't get access to the alumni groups. We don't get access to the season ticket holders. When I go out and sell an NCAA package, I don't even get access to the customers who come to the games. Here I've got direct access to the customer.

If I have an automobile prospect, which we do, and I want to make sure that that automobile manufacturer understands that this thing is going to have a return and he will have the exclusive, I am going to give him the ability to do direct market mailing. And guess what? They are going to get a better deal. The other thing I've found out about this group is that they are unbelievably loyal to the association and what it is trying to do. They want it to succeed. That is not necessarily the case when you are selling an NCAA deal because then it is all about money. Here it is all about building the industry, and the brand, and about man's love affair with the horse.

Q: Why has Breeders' Cup had trouble securing corporate sponsorships for its races?

Well, primarily because I don't think Corporate America understands what Breeders' Cup is. If the core audience of racing doesn't understand what the Breeders' Cup is, how can you expect Corporate America to understand? I would venture that if at the Breeders' Cup this past year at Churchill Downs you polled half the people, they would have thought they were watching preliminary races--like they are at the Derby--leading up to the Classic. They understand the Classic because of the Derby. A vast majority of the people in this country think the only thing that is important is the Derby and to a lesser extent the Triple Crown. Yet, the Breeders' Cup is the national championships. It is the Final Four. It is the World Series. Think about how many casual observers of racing know the Kentucky Derby, and then you ask the same population about the Breeders' Cup and they say it is something for the breeders, or they don't know. The polling data shows that. I think was has happened is that you've had one group out here selling Breeders' Cup, or attempting to, and you've had someone over here selling the Derby and you need to bring them together.

Q: So should horse racing develop a season from the Kentucky Derby to the Breeders' Cup?

Absolutely. There are 478 graded stakes races in this country that are going to count as points toward the Breeders' Cup. You need to brand at those races the Race to the Breeders' Cup. You need to develop polls and develop contests off of it. You know how everyone starts looking at the polls in January for basketball. It is the same difference. You create an interest. In January, you start seeing all this interest in the Final Four. It wasn't by accident. It is driving the interest toward it. You have Pizza Hut giving away four tickets to the Final Four, which is driving people into Pizza Huts to create the interest in their product, which creates more interest in the Final Four. I know it will work and it needs to be marketed and sold that way.

Q: Does the Breeders' Cup need a new name?

I think the Breeders' Cup means a great deal to the people in the industry. I think John Gaines' original thought was brilliant. I think there is a way to be able to do it and I think there are people in the industry thinking that way and we'll see what they come up with.

Q: Does gambling hurt racing's image?

No. We just did a survey in Fayette County (Ky.) that was clear that if someone did not come to the track it was not because of gambling. They didn't come because of time or because they were at work. A very small percentage said because of gambling.

Q: In the way you market college athletics one way and individual colleges another, is the same opportunity available to better market individual racetracks?

Sure. There were no colleges doing any of their own marketing before we did the NCAA program. It is one of things I think we can be helpful with. Once we start, we'll create spin off programs for various tracks. There will be some places where a national automobile manufacturer will also want to have a direct impact on that track on an every day basis in a market where they are introducing a new product, etc. It won't happen immediately but within the next four or five years.

Q: We have seen a lot of naming rights deals done for stadiums and arenas. Do you see that happening for racetracks?

Yes. I do.

Q: Do you know of anyone considering it?

I not only have not seen any interest, I have not heard of any tracks talking about it. But it is a natural. Where else are you going to get that amount of people every day and be that dominant with brand recognition? That will come.

Q: So you are bullish on the opportunities for Thoroughbred racing?

I'm bullish on any type of activity that has the type of people it attracts every single day. By the time you tie together intertrack wagering and the number of people it touches, the TVG (TV Games Network) concept whatever it is going to be called, all the television stuff, and the daily attendance, there is nothing like it in this country today. There is a terrific following of women and that doesn't happen with a lot of professional sports.

ESPN Sports Poll