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Saratoga Race Course Drives Sponsorships With Strong Attendance

Saratoga Race Course has become a popular destination for brands to activate unique sponsorships in front of a captive audience.

Chris Daley



Saratoga Race Course-Sponsorships-Horse-Racing

The unofficial start to the East Coast summer horse racing season began last week when America’s oldest sports venue kicked off its 40-day stretch of Thoroughbred racing. This year marks the 150th meet at Saratoga Race Course, which is considered by many as the top event of the year.

“The Spa” hosts the country’s elite horses, trainers and ownership teams competing during the season highlighted by 69 stakes races for a purse record of $18.85 million. National and regional companies serving as racetrack sponsors will primarily capitalize on attendance sizes to drive brand attention during meet. The large crowds at Saratoga are a good mix of locals, tourists, celebrities, those working in horse racing, as well as die-hard fans from around the world.

Saratoga’s opening weekend was a success with daily paid attendance averaging over 31,000 people. On Friday, the Opening Day on-track handle increased almost 8 percent from 2017, reaching $5,403,833 wagered. Live racing will continue six days a week — with Tuesdays off — through Labor Day.

“Having attendance on-site is crucial as a big percentage of revenue comes from food and beverage and VIP hospitality. Also, brands want to see a packed house,” said Ben Sturner, president and CEO of Leverage Agency, a full-service sports, entertainment and media marketing agency.

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) operates Saratoga Race Course and is responsible for selling sponsorships for the racetrack. The association is a nonprofit corporation that also operates Aqueduct Race Track in Queens and Belmont Park on Long Island. The list of 42 partners on NYRA’s website for Saratoga Race Course consists of both regional and national brands across different industries such as hospitality, beverage, financial, media, lifestyle and equine.

NYRA’s sponsorship deck states that Saratoga Race Course is among the leaders in professional New York sports attendance. Saratoga Today statistics show the racetrack averaged 28,088 in daily paid attendance during its 40 days of racing in 2017, resulting in a total paid attendance that reached 1,123,544.

“With consistent attendance every day of over 28,000 for more than a month and having premium customers at Saratoga, it’s a great sponsorship opportunity,” Sturner said. “People come from all over the country to make the pilgrimage to Saratoga and it’s an opportunity for a brand to get in front of upscale customers.”

To put these numbers in perspective, Saratoga had over 330,000 more in paid attendance than the NBA’s New York Knicks, who hosted 41 home games last season. The paid attendance at Saratoga totaled 500,000 more than the NFL’s New York Jets, who hosted eight regular season home games last year, and were ranked third in total NFL home attendance in 2017, ahead of the New York Giants. The track’s total paid attendance was 390,000 more than the NHL’s New York Rangers, who hosted 41 home games during their 2017-18 season at The Garden.

These attendance figures demonstrate that brand exposure at the racetrack alone is in-line with — or better than — other venues hosting professional sports. Although the NYRA declined to participate in this story, it can be assumed that proprietary partnership levels can reach six or seven figures, returning millions of dollars in publicity value.

Sturner, who has experience with horse racing clients, added, “To do a marketing activation at a racetrack you have to be creative and also interactive as horse racing differs from other sports. It’s such a social experience and you are on-site for a much longer time.”


Different areas of the racetrack give partners the opportunity to serve as a title sponsor, position their branding, and/or provide exclusive offers to ticket buyers.

Saratoga Race Course is known for being a family-friendly venue, and last week announced Berkshire Bank as the official partner of the Saratoga Family Zone. Headquartered in Boston, Mass. with 35 locations within 50 miles of the track, the bank becomes the title sponsor of the area that offers families a smoke- and alcohol-free interactive area on the Saratoga Race Course grounds.

Elizabeth A. Mach, Berkshire Bank’s senior vice president, said in the press release, “This is a great opportunity for Saratoga to create a unique experience for fans and enrich its Family Mondays programming. Through our support of both the Family Zone and Family Mondays, we are honored to incorporate Saratoga’s premier family activities under the Berkshire Bank banner.”

Brand exposure includes digital infield LED billboard rotation, and permanent signage opportunities near the finish line, Paddock, Horse Path and Under-rail. In-person activations will incorporate product samplings, retail pop-up boutiques, displays, and data acquisition stations. Additional branding can be offered if a company serves as the title sponsor for a race, which includes signage during trophy presentations.

This year, the racetrack opened a private hospitality section called in the Grandstand called “The Stretch,” which features a two-tiered dining area, modern boxes, expanded bar, and more than 200 premium reserved seats. Per NYRA’s press release, the debut of The Stretch marks the first significant enhancement to the structure since the mid-1960s.

Dunkin’ Donuts, a longtime partner of the NYRA, recently announced that fans who purchase one premium reserved seat at The Stretch will save $10 on the purchase of a second reserved seat with a voucher available exclusively at participating Dunkin’ Donuts stores throughout the greater Capital Region of New York.

Eric Stensland, Dunkin’ Donuts integrated marketing manager, said in the announcement, “Saratoga Race Course is the summer place to be, and we encourage all racing fans to experience the excitement of The Stretch by taking advantage of the savings voucher available at Dunkin’ Donuts this season.”

The Stretch was sold out on Opening Day.


Woodford Reserve, owned by Brown-Forman, became the Official Bourbon of Saratoga Race Course in 2016 and is currently under a three-year agreement. Chris Poynter, public relations and partnership manager for Woodford Reserve, says that their sponsorship with NYRA and Saratoga is a perfect combination.

“Our partnership with Saratoga will expose Woodford Reserve to tens of thousands of people during the 40-day meet,” he said. “Woodford Reserve sets in the heart of Thoroughbred country in Central Kentucky — and we are literally surrounded by horse farms. So, the equine industry and racing are part of our brand story and part of our DNA.”

Activations for Woodford Reserve include title sponsorship of two marquee stakes races, The Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney Stakes on Saturday, August 4 and the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Saturday, August 25. Travers Day, which features the legendary Travers Stakes that was first run in 1864 and is the racetrack’s biggest attendance day of the season.

Poynter added, “we are honored to partner with Saratoga and to enrich the fan experience at the storied and historic racetrack.”


Additional sponsor activations include hospitality offers and the ability to brand promotional giveaways. Co-branded social media and fan engagement technology, including a new mobile app launched this year are other ways sponsors are benefitting from Saratoga’s popularity.

Opportunities for brand mentions and exposure can also happen through broadcast coverage of the meet. “Saratoga Live” broadcasts each racing day on Fox Sports 2, MSG+, Altitude, and NYRA networks. The broadcasts reach 65 million-plus homes regionally and nationally, according to NYRA. In addition to some races being aired on NBC Sports Network, NBC will air the Travers Stakes live on August 25.

There are many different ways for brands to earn a considerable return on their partnership investment with the NYRA. However, it’s clear that Saratoga’s strong attendance is the main driver of sponsorship value.

If opening weekend is any indicator, earning brand exposure around the track this summer will continue to be successful for the brands investing in partnerships with Saratoga Race Course.

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.


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

Chip Ganassi Racing has a diverse portfolio of sponsorships for its teams, which compete in four different racing series – NASCAR, INDYCAR, IMSA and WEC.

Kraig Doremus




Photo via Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip Ganassi Racing has an impressive stable of 12 drivers representing four different racing series, and with that diversity comes a variety of partnerships and sponsors. The CGR team knows that partnerships are not a one-size-fits-all approach; constant communication and developing relationships have been the keys to CGR’s success and longevity with its partners.

“I think the main thing with any type of relationship is listening to what’s important and trying to bring partners the things that they desire,” said John Olguin, senior vice president, marketing and communications. “Just doing what we think is right does not make sense from a partnership perspective. It is easier to keep partners than to find them, so that’s one reason why communication is so important. Having conversations allows us to develop a plan and meet the objectives that we’re jointly seeking with our partners.”

For more than 30 years, Chip Ganassi has been a fixture in the racing industry. He began with a single INDYCAR team in 1990, and now his organization features a pair of NASCAR teams, two INDYCAR teams, two IMSA teams and two WEC teams. CGR boasts partnerships with some of the biggest brands around, including McDonald’s, Cessna, Credit One Bank, PNC Bank and many others.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

The Ganassi organization was founded with the backing of major retailer Target, which could be seen sponsoring a CGR-powered race car any given weekend until it decided to move out of racing. When Target left, other partners stepped up to fill the void thanks to the value that CGR brought to the companies involved.

“Chip always says that we have one goal. We want to win on and off the track,” Olguin said. “To win off the track, we have to bring value to the partner. We’ve been with several of our partners for a number of years, including Bass Pro Shops (2009), McDonald’s (2010) and Cessna (2013).”

The No. 1 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which will be driven by CGR newcomer Kurt Busch this season, has been sponsored by Cessna and McDonald’s in years past.

“The No. 1 car predominantly shared two sponsors, and they were polar opposites,” said Olguin. “One sells dollar hamburgers and one sells multimillion dollar airplanes, but they’re using the same platform to accomplish their goals. McDonald’s wants to see the golden arches everywhere, whereas Cessna simply wants to sell airplanes. They are now part of the NASCAR family and want nothing more than to have their planes transporting drivers, owners, teams and sponsors to and from the track.”

Another partner of Chip Ganassi Racing is Credit One Bank, which stepped up specifically for the No. 42 NASCAR Cup Series team of Kyle Larson when Target left.

Credit One Bank often has unique activations at the race track involving Larson, and not only are they a hit for the fans, but the digital and social media engagement is impressive.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

“Credit One Bank created campground gift packs that fans could win on social and they would have Kyle go to the infield and surprise the winners with products,” Olguin said. “They also did something cool with ‘Flat Kyle’ (similar to ‘Flat Stanley’) where they distributed him through social media and kids took him with them all around the world and posted photos of his travels on social media. The ‘Flat Kyle’ activation resonated with followers. Some of our partners want big activations at the track or on digital, and others — like Cessna — are more focused on the business to business aspect.”

One of the major benefits for partners of CGR is that they have access to all of the company’s race teams across the different series.

“One great aspect of being represented in different series is that if a company is a partner of ours in NASCAR, for example, it still has access to our INDYCAR and sports car teams,” Olguin said. “It allows them to reach different demographics and expand their branding and message.”

Olguin and the team at Chip Ganassi Racing know that retaining partners is one of the keys to having a successful organization. Having conversations with partners and setting goals together, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach has allowed the Ganassi brass to maintain longstanding relationships with several companies.

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Lenny & Larry’s, LA Kings Showcase How to Grow a Sports Partnership Over Time 

The Complete Cookie brand displays how to properly take a bite out of the sports partnership landscape.



Lenny & Larry’s

Photo via Lenny & Larry’s

Sports can be classified as a very niche sector of the industry in terms of marketing. Specifically, for partnership marketing, the deals that are forged are even more specialized. Companies and brands have a good idea of the audience that they are seeking out as they look to partner with teams. Whether it’s increasing brand exposure, maximizing ROI, or directly sampling a new product within the market, sports are the vehicle that can help propel brands to the finish line.

Nowadays, brands and teams are looking to make that road to the finish line more seamless than ever before. Partnership examples that come to mind are hotels sponsoring “kiss cams” and dentistries sponsoring kids clubs. These are partnerships that make sense and fit well into the demographics of the fans interested in those live-experience elements.

So, where does a brand specializing in protein-packed cookies, muffins, and brownies fit in with a hockey team?

Lenny & Larry’s, home of The Complete Cookie, has continued to build an impressive and expansive partnership with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. With the deal in the midst of its fourth year, the two organizations’ collaboration has evolved over its lifetime.

From starting with tabling opportunities and hospitality elements to adding marquee sponsorship pieces, in-game elements, and official designation components, the partnership has blossomed into an impressive array of elements and connectivity for both sides.

READ MORE: Swagtron and Chicago Cubs Show Off Creativity With New Partnership 

Lenny & Larry’s Executive Vice President Aaron Croutch explained the origin of the nutritional brand and how it forged a relationship with one of the most recognizable teams in the NHL.

“My father bought Lenny & Larry’s in 2001,” said Croutch. “At the time the company was only doing small labeled baked goods. Soon after, we began to build a stronger footprint in L.A. from which our family was born and raised. And roughly five years ago, we became a national brand as our products began selling within 7-Elevens, Vitamin Shoppes, Whole Foods, GNCs and other major national retailers.”

As to Lenny & Larry’s forging a relationship with the Kings, two important connections helped to play a role in creating familiarity.

The first involved a relationship with the manager of one of the more famous and well-regarded tattoo artists in the greater Los Angeles area, who had collaborated with Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick on one of his customized goalie masks back in late 2013.

“He and his team really liked our cookies,” said Croutch. “His manager thought there’d be a good connection between us and the Kings. And with us being big Kings fans ourselves, we got introduced to the team.”

The second connection came from the protein cookie brand aligning with another credible partner in the region: Gold’s Gym. The gym’s Venice Beach location was the company’s first-ever account and was already a sponsor of the Kings’ in-game Fitness Challenges.

“We decided to explore a partnership where we could team up with Gold’s Gym and start participating in these fitness challenges,” said Croutch. “As these occurred during the breaks in the game, we would have contestants in the audience participate in a fitness challenge whether it would be 30 pushups or jumping jacks in less than 30 seconds.”

As part of the initial partnership, the winner would receive a Lenny & Larry’s care package complete with products.

“That’s how we initially tested the partnership, and it grew from there,” said Croutch. “It was a great time to be involved with the team as they were just coming off their second Stanley Cup in three years, so they were a very popular team to associate our brand with and help drive some awareness.”

The Fitness Challenge that the brand was initially associated with has taken on a life of its own. Lenny & Larry’s now fully owns that challenge, extending the contest to not just fitness, but any type of competitive contest involving the audience such as a fitness vs. eating competition. Throughout the in-arena promotion, which is featured during every Kings regular-season home game, Lenny & Larry’s utilizes exposure through scoreboard and LED signage, as well as a personalized public address read.

“There is a certain energy that hockey fans bring to a live game that other sports fans can’t replicate,” said Croutch. “It was important for our brand to maintain and grow this element of the partnership.”

As the Fitness Challenge has evolved over time, so to has the overall partnership. In addition to the in-game promotion, Lenny & Larry’s also receives an activation space during all Kings “Fan Fests” outside Staples Center. These activations, located just outside of the arena at the trendy LA Live prior to select Kings games, provide the brand an opportunity to distribute Complete Cookies and its brand-new Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans.

A newer element to the partnership provides a broadcast signage component between the two sides. Lenny & Larry’s receives one 10-minute block of virtual signage behind one goal net during Kings’ home games broadcasted on FOX Sports West. During the 2017-2018 season, the virtual exposure netted $601,698 in gross media value for Lenny & Larry’s, according to Nielsen Sport 24.

In partnership with 24 Hour Fitness — another one of Lenny & Larry’s partners where products are distributed — and the Kings, the trio has been a hallmark of consistency regarding the dynamic “Fit To Be King” series. Established in 2015, the series provides Kings fans with suggestions and options for a healthier lifestyle. From customized workouts to healthy recipes to participation in a Kings Fitness Club with fellow fans, Lenny & Larry’s branding can be found throughout the team’s different platforms.

Additional opportunities to provide direct ROI for the brand include point-of-sale locations throughout Staples Center. Located in the general concession stands, Lenny & Larry’s offer its Complete Cookie and Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans attending all events.

“The general population may be looking for healthier options, instead of just hot dogs, nachos, or cracker jacks,” said Croutch. “If they want something else, we are proud to offer an alternative, healthy choice to those still looking to satisfy a sweet tooth.”

New to the partnership this year for the 2018-2019 season is having a dramatic presence within the live action of a home game. The brand has taken ownership of the “overtime” element of Kings’ home games. If any game is still tied at the end of regulation, the following overtime is aptly rebranded to “Crunch Time.” This is in conjunction with the launch of Lenny & Larry’s new Complete Crunchy Cookies.

“We worked with the Kings to get real creative on this,” said Croutch. “It’s great branding as there will be a PA read, LED signage, and scoreboard signage present throughout every ‘Crunch Time’ game. And best of all, if the Kings win in ‘Crunch Time,’ every fan in attendance will receive a coupon to try our Crunchy Cookies.”

READ MORE: Texas Legends Personal Approach to Partnerships Paying Off 

The partnership between Lenny & Larry’s and the Kings provides a unique and creative fit in the ever-growing health and wellness sector of the snack industry. Yet, in addition to the exposure and brand awareness that Lenny & Larry’s has generated through this partnership, the sheer growth of its business has mirrored it. Since the formation of the Kings’ partnership in 2014, Lenny & Larry’s has grown by a staggering 800-plus percent.

“When we launched with the Kings, our brand was still smaller regionally,” said Croutch. “Now, we have evolved as a national brand that is now a market leader.”

Perhaps the aspect that Lenny & Larry’s is most proud of is the different options it has helped provide to sports fans. In an era of perpetual concession items and continued efforts towards healthier lifestyles for their patrons, Lenny & Larry’s showcases its brand as the standard for aspiring sports teams.

“The Kings are big fans of our brand, and we have enjoyed working with them,” said Croutch. “They wanted to work with a local, growing, active brand doing something different than what was already in the arena. We wanted to provide fans with a healthy alternative, and we are excited that this partnership has continued to provide fans with exactly that.”

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‘Bundle All the Fun Together’: The Art of Sponsorship Activations in Vegas

A Topgolf game on ice is one example of the creativity the Vegas Golden Knights are able to showcase with a blank slate in a city known for entertainment.



Photo via Al Powers

With a professional franchise in Las Vegas, the team has had a bit of a blank canvas when it comes to sponsorship activations.

Perhaps a bit manufactured and a bit natural, fans expect extra entertainment at the National Hockey League games in Sin City —and the team has certainly followed through. When it comes to activations before, during or after the game, the goal has been to have fun, said Jim Frevola, the Golden Knights’ senior vice president and chief sales officer.

“We get more of a blank canvas to try things in Vegas than some teams are given,” Frevola said. “We make a conscious effort to fill everything with fun and excitement.”

Among a long list of partnerships that have caught the eyes of consumers, the Golden Knights’ collaboration with Topgolf might be the best example of the creativity behind the sponsorship activations at T-Mobile Arena.

The golf-game establishment — where participants aim for targets on a field — is brought to life on ice during the game’s intermissions. Fans might find themselves trying to slide a puck onto Topgolf targets projected onto the ice for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

“The best part with the partnership of Topgolf is they’re not a traditional brand sponsoring every team like a Geico, Coca-Cola or Budweiser,” Frevola said. “But they are a big, fun brand and people get excited when they hear about it. It’s a fun, natural fit that’s not seen in every arena or stadium.”

READ MORE: Why Mastercard Holders Will Soon Get Unique Benefits From Topgolf

Frevola said each activation is a collaboration between the sponsorship sales team, sponsor, and in-game entertainment team with three goals. They must ensure the fan has fun, the brand is a fit, and it fits organically into the game.

Topgolf leadership members wanted to have an activation that showcased their brand. With the targets so integral to the Topgolf brand and better ice projection technology, Frevola said it was an easy connection to make.

The actual challenge isn’t all that difficult, Frevola said, as fans and the sponsors both want the fans to succeed.

“It’s not hard to do; there’s a little skill, but the hardest shot is the first one as they hone in,” Frevola said. “I’m a golfer and it’s probably easier than the real Topgolf.”’

The Golden Knights have also hit it big with several other activations, like the Krispy Kreme shutout promotion. While other teams have similar promotions, Frevola said it seems to have a life of its own in Vegas. Part of it is the fans, but a lot has to do with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s given the city six shutouts this season. Following one of the wins, Fleury made his way to a Krispy Kreme.

“He really gets into it and so do the other players,” Frevola said. “The last shutout, with 35 seconds or so left, the other team pulled their goalie and [Golden Knights defenseman] Deryk Engelland took a shot off the chest to save a goal. It was 2-0; it wouldn’t have hurt. He never said it, but I think Deryk wanted some donuts.”

He also mentioned the relatively new William Hill activation, which offers fans the chance to shoot a puck across the ice for free play bets in the William Hill app.

Soon, a Zappos activation will take to the road as a “Battle Wagon.”

Out of the arena, Frevola said one of the most successful business development wins has been a partnership with Station Casinos, which offered its “Boarding Pass” members free bottles of the Golden Knights’ branded wine last season.

READ MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“It was wildly successful,” he said. “The best sponsorship activations in sports is to drive customers to a location, and they flocked in for the product.”

Even the simple things seem to be more playful in Vegas, he said. Like the penalty kill, which is sponsored by a lawyer, and the NV Energy power play.

“It’s not just one game, but couple it with a few games, a shutout, the castle, and the drum line,” he said. “Bundle all the fun together and it’s very infectious.”

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