The Kentucky Derby was held this weekend, the first of three races (along with the Preakness and the Belmont) that together make up the Triple Crown of horse racing. While the races are tied together by the Triple Crown, they all face unique marketing challenges.
The Kentucky Derby – The Favorite
By far the most popular, and famous, of the three races, the Kentucky Derby is established as the one race to watch if you are only going to watch one race. “The Run for the Roses,” at iconic Chuchill Downs, has a lot going for it. But despite it’s ‘market dominance’ the Derby is vulnerable and has inherent weaknesses:
- With so much emphasis put on winning the Triple Crown, some people may wait to tune in, watching the second race (Preakness) to see if the Derby winner also wins this race.
- There isn’t yet a focus or strong story line for the Kentucky Derby for the casual fan. Which horse should I root for out of the 15 – 20 that are in the race?
What can the Derby do to keep its position as the race?
- Expand your fan base: There is tremendous drama in horse racing and the Derby is probably the only race that can take advantage. A live, general audience reality show to crown a Miss Kentucky Derby could be interesting. Or even a fictional drama revolving around Churchill Downs – a primetime soap opera – could be compelling.
The Preakness Stakes – The Contender
The Preakness, in my opinion, may be in the best position. Every year the race matters (except when the Derby winner doesn’t participate) and the casual fan, anxious to see a Triple Crown winner, has an automatic rooting interest. And yet:
- Ultimately, like a middle child, they are easily forgotten. Not as popular as the Derby, nor as potentially important as the Belmont.
- Lack of identity. When does the race happen? Where is it? What type of flowers does the winner get?
What can the Preakness do to stop playing second fiddle to the Derby?
- Take a risk. When you’re second, you’ve got to do something to get people’s attention. I would take a page from HBO Boxing and do a 24/7 behind the scenes type show around the Derby winner and his main competition. I was excited to see that the Preakness has a twitter feed. But they only have four updates the day after the Derby. They should be going non-stop from the second the Derby ends until the Preakness has a winner.
The Belmont Stakes – The Darkhorse
The Belmont is a high risk, high reward proposition.
- If the same horse doesn’t win the Derby and the Preakness, the Belmont is meaningless to the casual fan.
- It’s been so long since we’ve had a Triple Crown winner (the last was Affirmed in 1978) that nobody under 35 even knows what a Triple Crown winner is.
How can the Belmont close fast on the inside?
- Forget the spectacle, focus on the race. With so much out of its control, I would drive home the concept that the Belmont is the single greatest test of the horse – the best actual race. Emphasize the track, the conditions, the length, the pedigree of the previous winners. If the Belmont could own the concept of ‘best individual race’ people would consider watching even if a Triple Crown wasn’t possible.
Every brand has different benefits and challenges. Understanding your strengths, and knowing how to exploit them, is just as important as understanding your weaknesses and knowing how to minimize them.