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The Stronach Group Seeks to Grow Pegasus World Cup and Attract New Fans

By creating this new event, the team behind it is aiming to attract new fans with upscale entertainment and hospitality experiences.

Chris Daley

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Photo via The Stronach Group

Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. will host the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Championship Series on Saturday, an event that is in brand-development mode and working to maintain a permanent place on the International Thoroughbred racing calendar.

By creating this new event for horse racing, the team behind it is aiming to attract new fans by offering upscale entertainment and hospitality experiences at its venue that cater to a broader audience outside of lifelong fans of the sport.

A total purse of $16 million will be divided up between the event’s two featured races, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, which began in 2017, and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, a new race being held for the first time this year. The Pegasus World Cup includes 12 of the top-ranked horses on dirt competing for a $9 million purse, while the World Cup Turf Invitational awards $7 million in winnings and will feature 10 of the top-class horses on grass.

The concept for the Pegasus World Cup was introduced by Frank Stronach, founder and honorary chairman of The Stronach Group (TSG), an entertainment and real estate company headquartered in Ontario, Canada with Thoroughbred racing as its primary focus. The group owns several racing venues in the United States, including Gulfstream Park, Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park in Maryland, and Santa Anita Park in Southern California. In addition, they are a leader in mobile wagering through its subsidiaries, AmTote and Xpressbet.

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

Stronach wanted to create a new racing event that fell on the calendar just after the Breeders’ Cup, but before the start of breeding season. This gives owners an opportunity to extend their horse’s racing career and shoot for one final lucrative victory lap before retirement. In a sport where its top athletes can come and go in the blink of an eye, the scheduling of this event is critical.

“The biggest impact the Pegasus has had is in extending the careers of some of racing’s biggest stars,” said Alicia Hughes, director of National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) communications. “The inaugural running featured a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome. Last year’s winner, Gun Runner, used the event as his career swan song.”

It is not uncommon to see some horse racing traditionalists sharing their cynicism on social media about the Pegasus, or writing articles about it. However, that does not mean that the concept is not working and starting to gain momentum.

Hughes, who recently joined the NTRA after covering the sport for media outlets such as BloodHorse and the Lexington Herald-Leader, said, “the Pegasus has proven successful in gathering top fields that otherwise wouldn’t come together at this point in the year, and I think it should continue to promote the wonderful showdowns they have helped create.”

While providing great racing content remains the number-one focus for Stronach at its venues, the company has started investing more resources to drive its recently formed Entertainment Division; its objective, being to modernize horse racing by offering different entertainment and hospitality experiences that will engage a new generation of fans.

“By offering premium hospitality, investing in technology and providing a great experience at the racetrack, we feel we can reach a newer fanbase who may not have been exposed to the sport as a kid, and are having their first horse-racing experience as an adult,” commented Jimmy Vargas, who was tapped by the Stronach Group to be its global executive vice president of entertainment.

Vargas, who most recently served as the VP of sales and marketing for MMG, says that the Stronach Group wants to provide its attendees with big music acts, and create new areas different from the traditional grandstand or current suites available to maximize dead spaces.

At the Pegasus World Cup, one of the hospitality offerings includes purchasing tickets to the “Pegasus LIV Stretch Village,” where fans can enjoy both the races and LIV nightclub experiences. The pop-up space is supported by a partnership with the LIV nightclub in Miami and provides cross-marketing opportunities.

“Different than the traditional grandstand or suites, our goal is to create unique spaces where fans can enjoy the races, while at the same time, give access to areas which give a night club vide, great music, and technology that make following or wagering on the races easy,” Vargas said.

The headline musical performers this year are Snoop Dogg and recent Golden Globe winner Mark Ronson. By booking big-name acts, the Stronach Group continues its pattern of providing entertainment it can leverage to reach different demographics of fans.

READ MORE: Saratoga Race Course Drives Sponsorships with Strong Attendance

“There isn’t a specific age or demographic of people we are trying to reach. It’s more about trying to reach a lot of people. Overall, we feel that fans going to races are generally underserved and we want to provide experiences that get more eyeballs on the sport,” Vargas said.

Hughes is optimistic about the strategy.

She said, “The first step toward creating new fans is exposing them to the sport, and the Stronach Group has a strong track record of exploring ways to do that. One of the best examples of that is how they have made the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course into a day that not only celebrates some of the best three-year-olds in the country, but provides a festive experience with its infield concerts and events. They’ve been rewarded on that front with a record crowd and handle in 2017, and more than 134,000 turned out in 2018 despite horrid weather.”

While all eyes of the horse-racing world will be focused on Gulfstream Park this Saturday, along with new eyeballs, the plan is in place by the Stronach Group to not only grow Pegasus, but the sport of Thoroughbred racing as well.

When asked about the Stronach Group’s vision for Pegasus and horse racing, Vargas ended with, “Our vision is to continue growing the Pegasus World Cup brand locally, nationally and internationally. Now in its third year, there is a bit of a buzz and we are trying to utilize it this weekend as a platform to modernize the racetrack experience and create an overall entertainment destination.”

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.

Events

Barstool Continues Foray into Event Space with Barstool Classic

The Barstool Classic will hit eight cities in its first year, providing the company’s fans and golfers with the chance to compete for $10,000.

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Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Golf is one of the few sports fans are as passionate about playing as they are watching. With that knowledge in mind, Barstool Sports is launching the Barstool Classic, an amateur golf tour with $10,000 on the line. The multi-month event will have eight qualifying tournaments culminating in a championship tournament.

The tour is the brainchild of Barstool blogger and Fore Play golf podcast host Sam Riggs Bozoian.

“Anyone who is a big fan, they typically play golf, and they ultimately want to play for something,” Bozoian said. “When I’m at the practice green watching 10-foot putts, I can’t envision I’m winning the Master’s, but luckily we have the resources to do this so we can play for something that matters comparable to what I’m watching.”

READ MORE: How The 2019 Masters Revived ‘The Tiger Effect’

Bozoian went to Barstool CEO Erika Nardini to pitch the event series shortly after coming up with the idea two months ago. The tour was pulled together quickly and announced with six of the nine courses booked. The speed to market is in line with many of the other ideas Barstool has started to execute, Nardini said.

“We do everything quickly,” Nardini said. “Golf is appealing because we love golf, and we have young fans who love golf the way we do. We try to have fun with everything we do and to approach stuff in a way that’s easy-going and approachable. The Barstool Classic is a great example of that.”

The Barstool Classic is the most recent example of the company stepping outside the box with auxiliary events to supplement the core media offerings. In the recent past, Barstool has held live shows plus started a punk rock band and amateur boxing circuit. Nardini said the brand will also release a comedy special in May. There’s no telling what might come next from Barstool.

I’m not sure exactly what you’ll see from us in the future, but I guarantee it will be funny, sometimes unexpected and decidedly authentic,” she said.

Nardini also didn’t explicitly say the events are meant to generate new revenue but noted she hopes brand partners see value, while “everyone who plays in the Barstool Classic has an absolute blast and we capture some funny moments.”

Web Smith, the founder of 2PM Inc., believes the event’s greatest purpose may not be the revenue it draws but what it can do for Barstool Gold, the company’s premium subscription service. Barstool Classic registration opened to Barstool Gold members on Wednesday, 24 hours ahead of Thursday’s opening to the general public.

“This is just the latest piece of the puzzle,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t categorize it purely in the event space of attracting people to a physical location, but it feels it’s adding value to the gold membership. It gives some incentive to have that membership to sign up early. Not to mention this is another event where they sell lots of merchandise and offer another platform for their sponsors.”

The eight qualifying tournaments will be held in Connecticut, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and the greater Boston and New York areas. Bozoian said the first year will be small to ensure it’s the best-possible event before potentially expanding in a wider geographic footprint next year.

“We’re pretty much hitting the major Barstool markets that have had hubs for nearly a decade or more,” Bozoian said. “We’ve already received a lot of why not a ‘West Coast event? South? Texas?’ The answer is we’ve never put on a golf event and we’d rather do it well, make sure we fill it out and provide the most enthusiasm we can and knock it out of the park.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but my vision is more stops, more cities and more dates.”

READ MORE: Internal Drive Keeps Alex Rodriguez Busy After Baseball Career

Each of the eight qualifying events will be open to 54 teams of two, who will play the course with a shotgun start to ensure the players can enjoy a happy hour and full dinner following the round. A few spots will be reserved for “celebrity fans,” Bozoian said, to add “some clout.” Barstool will also focus on providing fans the ability to interact with staffers.

The top six teams from each course will move on to the finale with the $10,000 on the line. Bozoian said he worked with the U.S. Golf Association to ensure those who wish to keep amateur status will be able to waive the prize.

Whether or not the Barstool Classic succeeds in the company’s desired mission is yet to be determined. But Barstool appears intent on maintaining a presence in the events space.

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MLB Grit Invitational Aims to Help Foster Women’s Baseball at Youth Level

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More than 60 teenage women will take the field at the Texas Rangers Globe Life Park this weekend as part of the MLB Grit invitational.

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball have partnered to host the high school invitational for girls who play baseball, bringing the players together for games, development and speakers. MLB Grit is building on the league’s other keystone women’s baseball events: The Trailblazer Series and Breakthrough Series.

Play begins Friday at Globe Life Park and finishes with games at Rangers MLB Youth Academy on Sunday.

MLB Grit is tournament style and will have a lot more gameplay than other the other two events, said Kim Ng, MLB senior vice president of baseball and softball development.

Ng said the league hopes to further develop a strong international community in women’s baseball.

“Right now, we’re seeing individual girls on boys baseball teams at the high school level,” Ng said. “It’s not just bubbling, this sport has had women involved for some time now. I think it’s starting to open some eyes. Youth participation in baseball has been part of Commissioner Manfred’s platform and agenda, and it’s important to us.

READ MORE: Why the Premier Lacrosse League and Women’s Professional Lacrosse League Joined Forces

“In a lot of ways, this is an underserved group and we want to provide some opportunities. It’s not a large group, but very vocal and we felt it was important to give some attention and put some attention to it.”

The MLB Grit roster includes participants from 21 states, Washington D.C., Canada and Puerto Rico, including five players from national teams. Team USA is represented by Ashton Lansdell and Emily Tsujikawa; Team Puerto Rico by Eva Cristina Torres Vega and Canada by Allison Schroeder and Liz Gilder.

Canada and Puerto Rico will each have eight players in Dallas.

Coaching the girls on the field this weekend will be a range of former big leaguers and women’s national team members, ranging from former MLB infielder Homer Bush and former MLB pitcher Marvin Freeman to eight current and former members of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, including Malaika Underwood, Tamara Holmes, Donna Mills, Shelby Estocado, Meggie Meidlinger, Alex Oglesby, Ila Borders and A.J. Hamilton.

Also in attendance will be Robin Wallace, a former MLB scout and member of the Women’s National Team and current associate coordinator of baseball development with MLB.

Ng said along with Trailblazers and Breakthrough series, MLB Grit has potential to be another signature event for women’s baseball, and the league representatives will continue to have an open mind moving forward in how to continue furthering the sport.

The MLB Grit weekend is also a time for many of the great stories of the girls who play high school baseball to be on a platform, Ng said.

READ MORE: Minor League Baseball Connects Women to Help ‘Lift’ Careers

“Just think about how they’re most likely the only girl playing on their high school team; that takes a lot of courage to be different, noticeably different,” she said. “This is a sport you can be different and it’s important to help them and provide them a place to be themselves.”

The weekend will also feature three speakers to help inspire the girls in attendance: Fox Sports Network Rangers reporter Emily Jones McCoy; Rangers Executive Vice President and General Counsel Katie Pothier; and Rangers Senior Software Developer Kim Eskew.

“For many of our youth events, we try to get speakers to come talk about different themes and obstacles they’ve overcome to really open the kids’ minds,” Ng said. “It gives them a perspective to see these people as role models in their careers or in terms of the adversity they faced and needed to overcome.

“This is a potential pipeline for us, so we’re introducing them to these women, influential women who have overcome a lot and associated with baseball and Major League Baseball.”

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Stadium Series PreGame Shows Off NHL Partnership Growth

NHL executives are excited about the growth of brand partners in a robust marketing calendar, exemplified by this year’s Stadium Series in Philadelphia.

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The NHL continues to build on its robust marketing calendar and the brand partner support behind the events, like this weekend’s Stadium Series.

Saturday’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field will be the league’s 26th outdoor game since 2008, which has provided brand partners a unique way to connect with fans, said Evin Dobson, NHL Group vice president of partnership marketing. This year’s Stadium Series will have 16 activating sponsors, up from 10 last year, at the PreGame festivities.

“Franchises like the Winter Classic and Stadium Series offer built-in collaboration and support with prominent league partners,” Dobson said. “They celebrate the nostalgia and take fans back to the sport’s roots of playing on frozen ponds and rivers — and the partners rally behind them as marketing platforms and touch the fans in ways not normally available.”

Part of this year’s activating partner growth is based on the overall growth of partnerships, as the league has added eight in the past 10 months.

“Looking at this year’s cast of partners, there’s a strong presence from the heavy activators that always show up and support,” Dobson said. “Then this year, there’s a couple new ones activating and reinforcing that these jewel events are a great moment to associate themselves with.”

READ MORE: NHL Fan Fair Gives Fans Look at New Coaching Tool in VR Game

The Stadium Series title sponsor Coors Light will continue its activation, led by a responsibility station, promoting responsible drinking. There also will be its upcycled bar, which is made with used products including hockey pucks, sticks, nets and skate blades. Behind it are guest bartenders passing out Silver Bullets, including former Flyers star Jeremy Roenick.

Coors Light will also be one of several sponsors with “stick-in-hand” activations, allowing fans to practice their hockey skills.

Likewise, other established brand partners like Honda, Geico, Kraft-Heinz, Pepsi and Dunkin’ will be on site with activations. Others with stick activations include MassMutual’s hardest shot, New Amsterdam Vodka’s Bullseye Battle and NHL Network’s Target Practice into a stacked washer and dryer.

New partners, like Jagermeister, which is the official shot partner, will have its Shots on Goal tent, which includes a custom hockey shot stick —  much like the shot skis seen in bars across the country. The cold factor of the outdoor game plays well into the optimum chilled temperature of a Jagermeister shot, Dobson said, making it a playful partner.

Additionally, fellow new partner MGM Resorts will be hosting a luxury tailgating experience, which allows fans a reprieve from the cold in a “relaxing and inviting space” with games and giveaways.

Navy Federal Credit Union joins as the Official Military Appreciation Partner, also with a stick-in-hand activation and thematic highlights during the game.

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

The NHL has continued to grow its partnership roster, but the strategy is not about the number, Dobson said. It is now pushing 40 partners overall in the U.S. and Canada, and the league’s partners are beginning to grab hold of the calendar of events. As Dobson said, many like to work six months or more in advance on plans for destination-based marketing platforms, programming promotions and engaging local constituencies.

The robust marketing calendar helps make the NHL a nearly year-round league, a macro business decision made more than a decade ago to help broaden and the partnerships, Dobson said.

Along with the partnership activation growth at the Stadium Series, the activation extensions are building across the board, like at the All-Star Game, which grew from 17 to 23 partnership activations this year in San Jose.

Right now, Dobson believes the growing number of strong brand partnerships signifies the strength of the NHL business.

“We focus on category exclusive rights that are delivering value and not diluting over time,” Dobson said. “We’re not focused on numbers. As long as partners give us positive feedback, we don’t think we have an over-saturation.”

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