Lone Star Park Sets Record on Pre-Race Breeders' Cup Ticket Sales

From the April 1, 2004 print edition of the Dallas Business Journal
by David Giddens, Staff Writer

Lone Star Park officials estimate they have pre-sold approximately 34,000 seats for the 2004 Breeders' Cup, a record for pre-race sales for thoroughbred horse racing's most prestigious competition.

With seven months before the Oct. 30 event, three-fifths of an expected crowd of 50,000 have already been identified, said G.W. Hail, Lone Star Park's vice president of sales and marketing.

"Having opened just seven years ago, we are the youngest track to ever land a Breeders' Cup," Hail said.

Although the Breeders' Cup is horse racing's equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series, Hail said a $25,000 study conducted in December and January by Russell Research revealed an abysmal lack of local awareness of the event.

The report, commissioned by Lone Star Park and The Richards Group, the ad agency for the park, indicated that while three out of five respondents were aware of the Breeders' Cup, only one in 10 knew that it would be held at Lone Star Park this year. Only two out of five respondents who had visited Lone Star Park in 2003 were aware the track had been selected to host the event in 2004.

The online study consisted of 1,335 interviews and targeted residents who had attended an outdoor event or activity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the past 12 months. Because about 60% of the crowd is expected to come from within the state, an extra effort needed to be applied on a local level, Hail said.

"The good news was that once our survey group was made aware that we would be hosting the Breeders' Cup, half of them expressed strong interest in attending," Hail said. That prompted the implementation of an aggressive marketing campaign that has been the major factor in setting the record pre-race sales figure, he said.

Damon Thayer, vice president for Breeders' Cup Marketing, said large tracks, such as Santa Anita (host of the 2003 Breeders' Cup in Los Angeles), easily sell out of reserved seating three to four weeks in advance of the event and have large infields to accommodate additional crowds. Lone Star Park's infield is unsuited for spectator use.

"The situation at Lone Star Park is similar to what we had in 2002 in Chicago at Arlington Park, where we went with a pre-sold marketing plan and did about 45,000," he said. "We didn't quite sell out in Chicago, but with 11,000 tickets left seven months before the event, and based on the demand for tickets, it looks like we will be looking at a sellout at Lone Star Park -- at least I hope so."

Jeff Cogen, chief operating officer for the Texas Rangers, said the pre-event sales racked up by Lone Star Park are not surprising, considering the principals involved.

"G.W. -- he gets it," Cogen said. "From what I understand, they did a lot of B-to-B, grassroots, below-the-radar activity to set the stage for that success."

Lone Star Park typically spends $2 million annually in local media buys to promote its racing season. Advertising expenditures for the Breeders' Cup alone will hit between $500,000 and $1 million, Hail said. The Breeders' Cup also is expected to spend an unspecified amount to advertise the race.

"The Breeders' Cup produced the materials, and we wrote the advertising plan," Hail said, which includes television spots during the NBA and NHL all-star games and the Sunday night sports programs featured on local network affiliates WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and KXAS-TV (Channel 5). The Richards Group did the strategic planning and handled media buying duties, while the Breeders' Cup has handled the creative aspects.

Breeders' Cup promos also ran during CBS' coverage of the first and second rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, and a six-week run of staggered local radio spots began March 29. NBC, which will cover the Breeders' Cup, will promote the race in its coverage of this year's Triple Crown.

The track began its ticket promotions, advertising and marketing design work months earlier than previous Breeders' Cup host tracks and started its print media efforts on Super Bowl Sunday.

Tickets -- to be allocated in a random drawing -- range in price from $25 to $125 (not including corporate suites and box seats). They and are available only with an advance application (see www.lonestarpark.com) and payment, both due by June 4.

The event is expected to generate nearly $52 million in economic activity across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to 2001 analysis by Dallas-based Weinstein & Associates. That same report estimates that host city Grand Prairie will see nearly $18 million in new spending, $20 million in economic activity and a total increase in income of $6.8 million.

"The focus on hosting the Breeders' Cup began as soon our citizens approved the sales tax levy in 1992," said Grand Prairie Mayor Charles England. "We knew then what this event, which by the way attracts some of the richest people in the world, would mean for this city and for the entire Dallas-Fort Worth region."

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