By now ladies, you’ve gingerly wrapped your fascinator in tissue paper and placed it back in its hat box and gentlemen, you’ve returned that seersucker suit to the far recesses of your closet.
For many people, the Kentucky Derby weekend is the first and last time each year you’ll visit or even think about a trip to Churchill Downs.
But not if Jeff Koleba has anything to say about it. He wants you back at the racetrack and he has an exciting plan to make that happen.
“What we do is show people that the experience of coming to live horse racing is a social experience,” said Koleba, vice president of Marketing and Programming for Churchill Downs and The Kentucky Derby. “It’s an experience of making new and unique memories with your friends and your family — like attending a social gala or taking a trip to the Bahamas. You create memories around a special time and you’ll want to come back for more.”
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Thousands of people who had never been to Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby made memories on Saturday. That experience is a gateway into horse racing, which Koleba wants to capitalize on through special events and social media.
“The new generation wants to know how horse racing is relevant to them and how this experience is something they can take part in, not only on Derby weekend,” he said.
Churchill Downs delivers that type of experience through a series of social events which merge horse racing, socializing and entertainment.
“What’s great about the sport of horse racing is you’ve got about two minutes of concentrated excitement and then about 30 minutes of time to socialize,” Koleba said, “so what we do is package the experience into a unique social occasion.”
Think nightlife meets horse racing.
Twilight Thursdays at Churchill Downs combines the typical after work cocktail get-together with friends and co-workers and horse racing under the lights.
“So we’ve got $1 beers, food trucks, local bands, gambling and horse racing, not typical things you’d find at a happy hour,” he said.
Downs After Dark is another popular series of parties that take place on Saturday evenings at the racetrack and intertwines live music, food, drinks and special entertainment with a unified theme and wraps them all around a night of racing.
Families with young children aren’t left out. On certain Sundays, Churchill Downs offers family-friendly pricing like lower food costs and $8 admission fees plus multiple fun activities for kids at Family Adventure Days — and yes, there is plenty of action on the racetrack.
Beyond creating fun things to do at Churchill Downs, Koleba’s team uses on-site photography, video production and social media to blanket events with shareable moments. This way, even if you aren’t at the event you can feel like you’re part of the excitement.
A Facebook Live broadcast from the announcer’s booth on the Kentucky Oaks is one of many examples of this new tact.
“It’s great. It allows our viewers to interact and ask questions of the announcer like how are you preparing, what are those colors you are drawing on the program?” Koleba said. “Rather than trying to dictate or explain what’s taking place at the track, we show viewers whats happening.”
On Kentucky Derby weekend that includes the celebrity red carpet, the crowd, the paddock and infield. Just about everywhere you would want to be, Koleba’s crew made sure you feel like you’re there.
The marketing of live horse racing to millennials isn’t unique to Churchill Downs.
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The Jockey Club, a century-old organization that oversees all aspects of the horseracing industry, uses similar methods to attract a new generation of fans across the country. Its multimedia promotional platform called America’s Best Racing takes the experience of racing on the road.
Penelope Miller, senior manager of Digital Marketing for the platform, said her job is to profile the biggest events in the sport and make them fun for the fans. Her team — based in New York City — travels to racetracks and sporting events nationwide showcasing the excitement of the horse race plus the cocktails, fashion, celebrities and everything that comes with a big day of racing.
“Anywhere millennials are comfortable — whether that’s social media, websites or a free-to-play app — that’s where we want to meet them and spread the word about horse racing and the social aspects that go with it,” said Miller
While new technology is the cornerstone of both America’s Best Racing and Koleba’s team at Churchill Downs, there is still room to learn from the past.
Today, Koleba says he’s taken a page from Matt Winn’s marketing playbook as he moves to make horse racing relevant to a new generation.
In the early 1900s, before cell phones or Instragam, Winn, who was the president of Churchill Downs, traveled the country by train to generate excitement for the Kentucky Derby. He is created with taking the first steps that turned the Kentucky Derby into the pop culture phenomenon it is today.
“I like to think I am evolving what Winn originally started by spreading the word about everything we have going on at Churchill Downs,” Koleba said. “We are showing, not telling, people what we offer and communicating in a way that is relevant and excites people about the social experience of horse racing.”
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @kirbylouisville. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/kirbya.
Churchill Downs 2018 Spring Meet
Downs After Dark
June 2 —Neon Nights
June 16 —Stephan Foster Night
May 10, 17, 24, 31
June 7, 14, 21,28
Family Adventure Days
Sunday, May 20 and Sunday June 24
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