Patches on their pants an easy sell to jockeys

Marketing: After getting the green light on wearing ad logos at the Kentucky Derby, riders hope some nice profits are down the road.

May 12, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

The horses, if you will, have left the starting gate. Now, it's a question of how far they'll go.

After a federal judge ruled jockeys had the right to wear promotional logos on their pants during races at Churchill Downs, at least 10 of 18 riders in the Kentucky Derby sported advertising on their clothing.

Jockeys in most other states - including Maryland and New York, the sites of the final two legs of the Triple Crown - have been allowed to wear advertising all along. But after the ads were made legitimate by being worn in the Derby, acceptance may grow.

"The Kentucky Derby is ... the race," said Eric Wright, vice president of research and development for Michigan-based Joyce Julius & Associates, a firm that measures the value of sports sponsorships. He compared it to the Super Bowl.

"The average person may not watch any other horse racing event during the year, but they probably are going to tune into that telecast. ... It's a valuable event from an exposure standpoint because there are so many people paying attention to it.

"Sometimes, it takes making a splash on the big stage for people to say, `There's some value in this. Maybe we should pursue it more on a full-time basis.' "

Leigh Steinberg Enterprises has formed an alliance with Jockeys Management Group, which represents about 150 riders nationwide, the Sports Business Daily reported yesterday.

Steinberg said his goal is to bring jockeys the same sort of benefits that athletes in other sports get from endorsements. R.J. Kors, head of JMG, said talks are in progress with four jockeys who would wear ads during the Preakness, but he declined to name them.

The Maryland Jockey Club yesterday issued house rules for jockeys who wear ads for races at Pimlico Race Course, restricting placement to breeches and neckwear, for example.

Wright's firm calculated that the Wrangler patch worn by Shane Sellers, who rode The Cliff's Edge to a fifth-place finish in the Derby, had the most on-screen time - 55 seconds, with an "exposure value" of $275,000.

Because his mount finished out of the money, Sellers earned only $56 for the Derby. Jockeys typically earn 10 percent of the purses won by their mounts.

Smarty Jones' owners won $854,800 for their Derby victory, giving winning jockey Stewart Elliott $85,480. However, purses for routine races at tracks like Pimlico are far smaller. Sunday, for instance, winning horses took home from $4,275 to $17,100.

That's why the guaranteed money earned from ads is important, said Sellers. He declined to say how much Wrangler paid him for the Derby, but other jockeys reported receiving up to $30,000 for the race.

"We risk our health. We risk our lives out there," Sellers said. "This is an opportunity for us to secure a payday."

Besides Sellers' Wrangler patch, only four of the other jockeys' ads were visible on television for an appreciable amount of time during the Derby telecast, according to Joyce Julius' research.

And some of the ads weren't executed very well, according to both Wright and Ryan Schinman, president of New York-based Platinum Rye Entertainment, an entertainment and marketing consulting firm.

"Based on our experience with other sports, there is a real learning curve with maximizing your opportunity as far as putting your logo in the right spot and having your logo simple with thick lettering, occupying as much space as possible with contrast," Wright said.

"If you looked at a lot of those logos in the Kentucky Derby, you had some thin lettering. You had some colors that didn't pop as well they should have."

Though the Preakness is far less of a national event - there's a "huge drop-off" Schinman said - corporations have shown interest for Saturday.

"Anytime you have that type of viewership and those type of ratings versus buying a typical 30-second or 60-second ad on the network, corporations are looking for ways to get viewership without having to spend high six figures plus whatever it costs to produce the ad," Schinman said. "So really you're talking about seven figures. So this is a way for a hundred grand for you to get involved.

"And maybe your horse will be lucky enough to win, and the exposure you'll get will be 10 times that."

It isn't just the top-tier jockeys who may benefit. Instead of paying $20,000 or $25,000 for one of the Preakness favorites, Schinman said, it would be a good gamble for a company to pay $2,500 to put its logo on the rider of a long shot.

Corporations did something similar during the U.S .Open tennis tournament, at the last minute buying a patch on the clothing of Serena Williams' opponent, he said.

"You know you're going to get national coverage," Schinman said. "I would assume at some level almost every jockey should have something."

Another part of the learning curve falls to the jockeys, Wright said. People joke about NASCAR drivers and their constant mentions of sponsors, but the sponsors gain visibility.

"Those [drivers] are so well-schooled," he said. "Just watch them as they walk up and begin an interview. The first thing they do is they check their neck and they make sure they're zipped up and the flap is pulled up tight so you can read that logo."

Said Sellers: "This is our first year, and it was a last-minute deal for a lot of us. Naturally, we're going to do whatever it takes to get the best deal for our sponsors."

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