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Innovation

Championship Horse Racing Set to Introduce ‘The Series’ in 2019

The company is bringing a team and league model to horse racing, aiming to enhance sponsorship and fan engagement opportunities.

Chris Daley

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In July 2019, Championship Horse Racing (CHR) will be looking to disrupt the sport when it debuts “The Series” in Great Britain. “The Series” will present flat racing, as it is known in the UK, in a team-based, season-like format which CHR feels will modernize the sport and breathe new energy into it on a global level.

Great Britain’s history of racing dates back centuries, and flat racing continues to be one of the country’s largest spectator sports.  Prestigious international meets like Royal Ascot have continued growing their global appeal recently, and specifically with an American audience. In November, NBC Sports Group announced a six-year contract extension with Ascot Racecourse, granting the company United States media rights until 2025 and expanding coverage of Royal Ascot.

CHR respects the status and appeal of meets like Royal Ascot, but wants to distance itself from some of the perceptions that horse racing sometimes has among people inside and outside the sport. They do not want “The Series” to bring a feel that horse racing is only for the elite, that it is solely focused on gambling, or that the sport is too complicated for fans to follow.

‘The Series’ Format

“The Series” will feature 12 teams, each having a roster of 30 horses conditioned under one or more trainers. Each team will also have four dedicated jockeys. The horses will compete in eight fixtures or six races each, taking place on consecutive Thursday evenings from July to September. Each race will include 12 runners representing each of the 12 teams.

CHR announced its eight scheduled venues for “The Series,” which includes top racecourses in England, Ireland and Scotland. The branded teams will compete in 48 races with more than £100k of prize money per race.

READ MORE: Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup Maximize Fan Experience 

Most horses racing around the globe fall into the handicap category, meaning their talent is not on the level of Graded Stakes or Group class. “The Series” races will all be handicaps to even out the competition, and giving owners a chance to earn more prize money with their horses in relation to those with horses competing at the Graded Stakes and/or Group level.

A points system similar to Formula 1 will be utilized to determine prize money winners on individual racing days, as well as “The Series” championships at the end of the season. Various prizes will be awarded to racing teams, as well as jockeys.

Sponsorship and Fan Engagement

With this new format, CHR believes “The Series” will provide sponsorship opportunities unlike others currently available in horse racing. The company’s goal is to have each racing team sponsored and become international brands. They are also seeking a title sponsor for “The Series.”

“We are looking at a range of sponsors across key categories such as automotive, airline, telco, as well as key brands from within racing,” said Oli Harris, CMO for CHR. “Sponsorships and racing teams will all be focused on enhancing the fan experience during ‘The Series.’”

Team sponsorships will bring opportunities to create fanfare at each event. “Our aim is to make sure that the fans have the best possible opportunities to benefit from our sponsors. The aim is to engage fans and brands on and off the racecourse,” Harris added.

The teams will have dedicated areas for their horses, along with equipment and branded apparel worn by the jockeys, trainers, and other stable staffers. “Each team will have its own space on the infield where they can entertain fans and run activations. I feel it’s a chance for sponsors to interact with their audience like never before,” Harris said.

Sponsors will capitalize not only at the racing venues, but also through media coverage expected during “The Series.” Harris explained, “We are going to be bringing an unparalleled amount of media coverage for the sport, which we are very excited about. This will allow us and our sponsors the opportunity to tell stories and produce engaging content over a two-month period, using one of the world’s most popular sports as a medium. It’s a sport in which women and men can compete as equals, and one that employs tens of thousands of people.”

Since current negotiations are underway, Harris was unable to provide specifics around the costs of sponsoring a racing team.  New York-based Leverage Agency is working with CHR on sponsorship sales and marketing advisory.

Fan Engagement and Gauging Success

Increasing fan engagement and reaching new fans is CHR’s primary objective during the first year of “The Series.” In addition to the racing teams and sponsors increasing fanfare themselves, CHR will utilize technology, including a mobile application dedicated to “The Series.”

“We are hoping our app will be the facilitator of genuine interaction between teams and their fans. Our #WeWinYouWin system rewards fans when their team does well,” Harris said.

“Rewards and benefits will be redeemed via the app. We also want the app to be a navigation tool for the events themselves. We will have a lot of different things going on alongside the action from the track and we want to help fans find their way around in a more intuitive way,” he added.

READ MORE: Saratoga Race Course Drives Sponsorships with Strong Attendance

As for gauging success and building the future of “The Series,” CHR will analyze feedback from fans along with overall acceptance rates in its markets.

Harris said, “We will judge our success by how people relate to the format of the competition and listen to their feedback. We are totally customer- and market-orientated in our approach, and we genuinely want to shape a series of events that the fans feel a part of.

“Our aim is to eventually take the competition to other parts of the world, but we must first make sure we give our audience a great show in year one.”

Chris Daley has been working in the public relations and marketing industry for 15 years. During his career he has worked across different sports, including horse racing. He is currently the Principal/Founder of the communications agency, Whirlaway and serves as an adjunct business communication faculty member at Stevenson University. For seven years he worked with Sagamore Racing, a Thoroughbred racing operation based at historic Sagamore Farm in Maryland.

Innovation

A Look at Richmond Raceway’s Modernized Infield

FanGrounds is the Centerpiece of Richmond Raceway Reimagined, $30 million Infield Redevelopment Project, at America’s Premier Short Track.

Kraig Doremus

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Richmond Raceway’s modernized infield is set for its spring debut this weekend and offers fans a variety of unique vantage points of all the action taking place at the 3/4 mile D-shaped oval. Image from Richmond Raceway.

When NASCAR rolls into Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Spring Race Weekend beginning  April 12, fans will experience the spring debut of the DC Solar FanGrounds, a key initiative by Richmond to modernize its track.

The FanGrounds launched during Richmond’s first-ever NASCAR Playoff Race Weekend last fall as part of Richmond Raceway Reimagined, a $30 million infield redevelopment project. Track president Dennis Bickmeier expects a positive reaction from race fans for the spring debut.

“People will be surprised by the access they have at our facility,” said Bickmeier. “We could show a video on it and talk about it, but for people to experience it for the first time last fall was remarkable. We’ve taken testimonials from the September weekend to help promote the FanGrounds for this weekend’s doubleheader.”

One of the unique aspects of the FanGrounds is not only the access it grants fans, but also that everything is centralized in one location.

“We’ve programmed the entire infield with driver Q&A’s, music, food and everything fans want for an authentic, engaging race experience,” said Bickmeier. “It’s basically its own village. The access fans get to the cars and race teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage is special and something we’re proud to give them at Richmond Raceway.

From driver appearances to exclusive activations and even the pre-race ceremonies, the FanGrounds contains activities for all racing fans attending the action at Richmond Raceway.

From the beginning, Richmond’s executive team decided on a strategy of involving longstanding partners in the redesign. To that end, they approached the likes of MARS, the  Virginia Tourism Corporation, Markel, Virginia Lottery and Eternal Fan about deepening their ties to the track.

“It was a new attraction and gave us something fresh to have a conversation with our partners about,” said Bickmeier. “We came to the table with a new way for them to engage with their customers, and we knew going in that every partner is different. We went to a variety of prospects and had different conversations with each partner about how we could help them meet their objectives in the FanGrounds.”

READ MORE: A Look at the New Foundation of Richmond Raceway’s Ticket Sales

For MARS, its executives wanted the chance to have one-on-one interactions with fans and promote its brand, while also showing off its No. 18 Toyota Camry show car and allowing fans to sample products.  

The Virginia Tourism Corporation brought its storied“Virginia is for Racing Lovers” messaging to the FanGrounds. In addition to their space in one of the FanGrounds’ neighborhoods, the tourism center has a standalone welcome center to help fans make the most of the experience in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Perhaps one of the most unique activations came following Richmond Raceway’s conversations with the team at Eternal Fan. Eternal Fan got involved with track’s new pedestrian tunnel and launched a Fan Memories program, in which fans can purchase plaques and have them placed on the wall of the pedestrian tunnel, cementing their place as a loyal Richmond Raceway supporter.

“The team at Eternal Fan wanted to be involved with the new memories that fans would make in the modernized infield,” said Bickmeier. “There are many places where you see engraved bricks, but these plaques are truly something different. The Fan Memories idea was not only a first for us but also a first for Eternal Fan.”

Lastly, the track wanted to upgrade its luxury experience and feels it did so with the Victory Lane Club, which will make its spring debut this upcoming weekend and features benefits like access to the driver and crew chief meeting plus a weekend FanGrounds pass. The team at Richmond toured many stadiums through the Southeast, and even nationally, with a focus on what the stick-and-ball sports have done to draw inspiration for the club.

“It’s a small club with slightly more than 100 members,” said Bickmeier. “You see a lot of court and field-level hospitality in traditional stick-and-ball sports. But in racing, hospitality is typically in suites above the grandstands. We wanted hospitality at the ground level, so that’s where our inspiration came from for the Victory Lane Club.”

The Victory Lane Club also features unique vantage points, as fans are able to peer into the garages and see NASCAR teams prepare their cars ahead of the weekend. There’s also rooftop access to see the stock cars rolled out onto the starting grid. . A short trip outside and on to the roof, yes, fans are given access to the roof of the club, provides a breathtaking view of the 3,300-pound stock cars as they are rolled out onto the starting grid.

READ MORE: Understanding Partnerships With an Inside Look at Chip Ganassi Racing’s Strategy

The club is all inclusive with a multitude of benefits including a hot pass, access to the driver and crew chief meeting, and a weekend FanGrounds pass.

With race week officially here and Bickmeier believes Richmond’s upgrades will satisfy fans who have come to expect a willingness from the track to push its boundaries.  

“We’ve gained a reputation at Richmond for being willing to try different things and not just sticking to the status quo,” said Bickmeir. “We did that with the way we structured the FanGrounds and the Victory Lane Club. The reaction in the fall was spectacular and we expect that to continue for the spring debut over the Toyota Spring Race Weekend.”

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Major League Soccer Seeks Digital Innovation Through Four-Pronged Approach

Digital is the future for Major League Soccer, and a multi-faceted strategy could one day take the league to new heights.

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Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For Major League Soccer, the pathway toward innovation begins on the pitch.

“Look in the stadiums, the fan experience is different than any other professional sport,” Schlosser said Chris Schlosser, MLS senior vice president and general manager of MLS Digital at a South by Southwest panel. “How do we lean into that and make it come alive? How do we translate that if you’re at home the couch?”

He expects the answer to come through digital thanks to partnerships with companies like Twitter and R/GA, a company helping connect MLS to emerging technology companies. In fact, Twitter Sports Partner Manager Will Exline believes social media could eventually lift MLS to unprecedented heights.

“If you look, you see how radio helped baseball, TV helped football and basketball,” Exline said. “MLS has lived in the digital world. As fast as platforms are evolving, MLS is just as quick to try new things.”

READ MORE: Simple Hashtags Elevated by Scarves Illuminate MLS Content Innovation

Schlosser said MLS Digital works with a four-pronged approach: Fan connection, on-field talent, stadium experience and media quality.

According to R/GA Global Chief Operating Officer Stephen Plumlee, there’s a current push to better connect fans to the teams and each other in order to better develop content ties. It isn’t that fan attention spans are necessarily shorter. Consumers just have so many options at their fingertips.

Consequently, Plumlee says, “The challenge is personalization. There has to be an authentic experience delivered to what the fan wants.”

Along the same lines, Exline said Twitter will continue to move towards individual user personalization to help the league and individual teams better target users and fan bases. He cited last years all-star voting process as one prominent example, which allowed users to tweet their vote, which returned a reply with a video of the player thanking a user.

That personalization also extends to viewership habits. Schlosser believes it’s important for MLS to provide fans the capacity to watch from any device. Within those device boundaries, they also hope to offer custom angles and other individual-choice options like advanced data and sports betting.

Schlosser also brought up the future, and current use, of artificial intelligence to generate user-specific highlight packages of specific content.

“I can give you a highlight of just your team’s play without having a human cut the highlight,” he said. “I can give the favorite player’s best goals. Maybe [the fan] misses a game and has four minutes and wants a recap, maybe 20 minutes.

“We’re starting to open those opportunities.”

Eventually, that could even feed into talent evaluation. Schlosser wondered aloud whether augmented reality could one day present skill challenges and judge a player through those ratings without ever scouting someone in person.

“That would allow a team to identify them and bring them into the academy to start the formal training process,” he said. “It could result in seeing thousands of more players than we could see today.”

READ MORE: ‘We Are LAFC’ Shows Off Exclusive Content Opportunity for MLS, ESPN

MLS took plenty of lumps when it was starting for being different than the global game of soccer. Now, the league is embracing that differentiation and will keep building on it with digital, Schlosser said.

“One of the big shifts is this idea we have to be authentic to the global soccer community,” he said. “There were these crazy rules when MLS first started … we very quickly learned that’s not the right way. But we are also finding North American soccer is a different thing. Soccer here is a little American, European, South American, and that changes from city to city.

“We can lean into that and we don’t have to apologize. We have to celebrate the unique differences and let them come through the atmospheres in the stands.”

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The Story Behind the Giants’ New $10 Million Scoreboard

Ahead of this year’s MLB season, the Giants are set to unveil a new scoreboard that at over 150 ft by 70ft, will be the third largest in the league.

Front Office Sports

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Image via the San Francisco Giants

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With Spring Training underway, baseball is inching its way closer to the start of another season.

Although we don’t know if the Giants have the inside track to signing Bryce Harper, we were able to sit down with Senior Vice President & CIO Bill Schlough to take a look at their brand new scoreboard and why the team invested $10 million into the product.

$10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard. I’m assuming much of the cost will be recouped through increased advertising opportunities. Outside of fan experience, was that one of the other driving factors when it came to making this investment? 

“If you think $10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard, you should see how much it will cost to deliver 4K content to that board!  But I have to be honest, for the Giants, “increased advertising opportunities” was NEVER part of the discussion. This is all about the fan experience, 100%. Our board was the second oldest and fifth smallest in MLB, and after 12 seasons it was definitely due for a refresh.  Our fans deserve a first-class experience at Oracle Park, and we’re going to give it to them. And with our new 4K board, it’s not just baseball games that will be enhanced.”

“We’re confident that all events at Oracle Park will benefit from this new screen—from private screenings, to corporate event branding, to convention gatherings, to public event enhancements and beyond. So if there are increased revenue opportunities from our new Diamond Vision, I’d say they will come from increased attendance and incremental events more than advertising. We didn’t invest $10 million for a glorified billboard, this is all about enhancing the experience for our fans.”

How much did the impact of landing outside events play a role in going forward with this decision? Does having this open up new opportunities? 

“Events that are complementary to our baseball schedule – both in-season when the Giants are on the road and during the off-season – are a huge source of pride for our organization, not to mention a fantastic way to develop new partnerships and opportunities. Giants Enterprises, the entrepreneurial arm of the San Francisco Giants, hosts more than 250 events per year, including concerts, private corporate events, international sporting events like Rugby World Cup Sevens, unique activations such as Topgolf Crush and more.”

“The Giants Enterprises team does a phenomenal job filling our calendar with events on a year-round basis and by continuing to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology and venue upgrades, we will undoubtedly be able to attract new business. Upgrading our scoreboard presents a multitude of opportunities for clients using our facility so it was absolutely a big consideration when moving forward with this project. We are currently exploring new innovative ideas that we can activate on for returning and annual events that will help take their experience here at Oracle Park to the next level. We look forward to pushing the boundaries and continuing to innovate in strategic ways to fully maximize the capabilities of our new scoreboard.”

When looking at comparable screens and different sporting venues, which ones did you look to for inspiration? What did you want to differently?

“We definitely did our homework and there are plenty of other venues that are worthy of emulation.  The Cowboys really started the “bigger is better” trend a decade ago with their record-setting massive DiamondVision display at AT&T Stadium. Vivek Ranadivé and the Sacramento Kings were also trendsetters, launching the first 4K video board in sports back in 2016.  In baseball, the Indians, Mariners and Angels are now the three biggest.”

“In our travels, we also visited the Rockies, Ravens and our longtime friend in Lincoln, the recently retired Godfather of HuskerVision, Shot Kleen at the University of Nebraska.  In the end, we figured that given that we won’t be doing this again anytime soon, we shouldn’t make any compromises.  So we went big (153’ x 71’, 3rd largest in MLB), high quality (1st 4K capable board in MLB) and chose to stick with DiamondVision from Mitsubishi Electric—who we consider to be the best video board manufacturer in the business.”

If you could play any video game on the screen, which would it be and why? 

“From a purely nostalgic standpoint, I would want to play Goldeneye 007 on N64. That said, the graphics and that game wouldn’t do our new scoreboard justice. A fun, competitive multi-player game would definitely be a joy to watch so perhaps a game like Fortnite. Above all else, playing MLB The Show 2019 and watching Buster Posey hit a homerun to centerfield while watching it on the centerfield scoreboard would be a total trip.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

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