Next Steps…Horse Racing and Boxing…

The weekend brought more hope for boxing and horse racing…again. Manny Pacquaio’s win over Shane Mosley continued to raise his stature in the sports and entertainment world, while Animal Kingdom captured the Kentucky Derby with great fanfare and record attendance. So what’s next?

In boxing, the next step for Top Rank’s integrated marketing approach should be a renewed and expanded agreement with CBS and all its broadcast arms. The pre-event promotion boxing received as a feeder for the pay-per-view event was a positive not just for the sport, but for all the brands associated with Top Rank and Pacquaio, and the exposure for his next big fight should grow exponentially for all involved. The downside of boxing is there is no immediate next result for the champion…that takes months to hatch and market. However the positive side is that same hype machine, which can take the champ on an extended media tour to help grow sponsors and the sport in the coming weeks. All of that positive energy should feed not just into Pacquaio’s next fight, but into other subsequent bigger cards that can also be promoted. Now CBS is not about to jump whole-hearted into the boxing business, although Saturday’s promotion bodes well for future cross brand and channel promotions. Maybe there will be a championship fight back on broadcast TV at some point, but for now using broadcast promotion to build to a big pay per view still makes great sense, and Saturday’s event could now be a solid framework for the sport and its better promoters to build off of.

On the horse racing side, the exciting win at the Derby creates a bridge to The Preakness, and could lead to a month of hype toward the Belmont Stakes. The large window NBC created to promote the race Saturday was encouraging, but leveraging that window across all the NBC Comcast platforms…news, sports and entertainment…leading to The Preakness will not be easy. The competition with a well planned multiplatform effort by the NHL for the Stanley Cup playoffs will be a challenge, as will access and managing the various story lines consistently leading up to the race. A few years ago UPS seized the popularity of Big Brown by creating a successful sponsorship platform around the horse during its Triple Crown bid, could a brand find a home with Animal Kingdom and its jockey, owners and trainer to seize the moment? More importantly can the sport itself find ways to harness Saturday’s buzz and translate it into positive messaging for the sport overall? Time will tell, but record crowds and excitement certainly can’t hurt.

The obvious difference between boxing and horse racing from Saturday is time. Boxing has a charismatic champion to build off of for months, horse racing must seize the moment now. Regardless, Saturday again showed the value of the big event in sports and the potential leverage it can have with brands and the public. Now the leverage must be translated into results.

Horse Racing, Boxing Share A Day And The Same Crossroads…Again.

They are sports driven by gambling dollars and the big event, and they have spent years trying to reconnect with the heyday of the past. Saturday boxing, in the form of Manny Pacquaio and Shane Mosley’s title bout, and horse racing, with the Kentucky Derby, will again take center stage in sports and try and use these elite events to resurrect their businesses. Can they?

Well the good news is that despite the alphabet soup of governance, the fractured leadership, and the migration to other sports by the casual fan, both sports remain on the edge of the public eye, and both have tremendous untold stories, especially in the markets that are growing fastest in this country, Hispanic and African American. They also both have the looming issue of gambling, both positive and negative, that can draw both ire and interest from the public and the media. Tainted sports? Yes. An upside for brands looking to engage or leadership willing to consolidate? Absolutely. Now boxing seems to be making the biggest strides towards resurrection. Promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy have looked to professionalize their business sides, taking chances on new marketing partnerships (Top Rank’s cross promotion of the fight tonight with CBS is a great example, chronicled by the Sports Business Journal this week) and non-traditional ways to promote in an effort to use the big fight to lift the overall business. The sport’s violence and the athleticism of its elite fighters always draws a crowd and buzz, and the upsurge in interest in the UFC has actually helped pull boxing back into the brand discussions, which is counter to what many thought would happen with the rise of MMA.

Horse Racing is a different story, but one with solid potential. The horses, the jockeys, the owners, the tradition still remain largely untold outside of the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup. Online gambling and an aging population has taken its toll on the tracks, and public funding in once profitable places like New Jersey has dried up a thriving business. There is little activation in the social media space and rumors of corruption always abound. Yet the sport thrives around the world, the excitement of the race and the pageantry of race day still exists, and the upside for thoroughbred racing to combine efforts to better educate fans and capture attention consistently still is very much in play. Maybe not at hundreds of tracks 365 days a year, as happened in years past, but certainly with a focused, consistent schedule that makes sense to the casual fan.

Brands will turn out Saturday for both events, as will casual fans on site and watching on TV. NBC’s consolidation of the Triple Crown makes great sense, and a younger, more savvy group of owners in horse racing can help drive change and consistency there as well. Both sports have opportunity…again…and at their core they are understood by the casual fan. What is needed is 21st century marketing and branding on a consistent level that uses the big event to drive the growth of the sport. Will it happen? Time will tell, as will leadership. Regardless it should be a great day of viewing.