Churchill Downs Gallops Into Catalogs, E-Commerce

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After hosting the Kentucky Derby for 130 years, Churchill Downs is galloping into the 21st century with a herd of new licensed products. To help market the items, the company launched an e-commerce site last week and will mail a new catalog the week of Nov. 14.


Churchill Downs Inc., Louisville, KY, is a publicly traded company with interests in horse racetracks in Illinois, Florida, California, Indiana and Louisiana in addition to the Louisville home of the Kentucky Derby. Though it always offered licensed products -- some fans reportedly own mint julep glass sets comprised of one glass from every race going back 131 years -- the company recently signed a new licensing partner, Licensing Partners International LLC, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.


LPI, which is also the licensing agent for the PGA Tour and other sports events, has brought on a wide selection of new Churchill Downs licensers to diversify and upgrade the company's branded products. The racetrack operation sells licensed products under several brands: Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks (the race that takes place the day before the derby), Churchill Downs and Twin Spires Club, a player rewards program.


"We're trying to do some of the tried-and-true exposure tactics used in sports," LPI president Wesley Haynes said. "We're trying to reach Kentucky Derby fans with Kentucky Derby product."


Churchill Downs' licensed products previously were limited to T-shirts, caps, glassware and collectibles. The new selection consists of imprinted sportswear from Cutter & Buck, Greg Norman and others, fashion apparel including sweaters, polo shirts and dress shirts, collectible artwork and hard goods including, of course, mint julep glasses. The Web site stocks more of the fashion-oriented items. Prices range from $4 to $500.


Zouire Marketing Group, Kansas City, KS, was hired to develop Churchill Downs' new catalog and e-commerce site. The Web site launched with about 200 items Nov. 1, coinciding with the introduction of the logo for the 132nd Kentucky Derby, which takes place in May. The site is accessible from the Churchill Downs home page, churchilldowns.com, and the Kentucky Derby home page, kentuckyderby.com.


The 16-page catalog showcasing about 100 items mails the week of Nov. 14 to 20,000 season-ticket holders of Churchill Downs. A second edition in the spring will mail to at least 100,000 names. A previous Churchill Downs catalog was distributed to retailers.


The fall mailing goes to "a highly targeted list" of names supplied by Churchill Downs with the goal of creating a holiday gift-giving business for the Kentucky Derby, said Kirk Kowalewski, Zouire senior vice president of sales and marketing.


Zouire, which helped develop Web sites and catalogs for other sporting events, thinks there's year-round interest in the Derby.


"Our U.S. Open business is split nearly 50-50 fall to spring even though the U.S. Open is a June event," he said. "Our hope is to do the same for the Kentucky Derby."


In the spring, the catalog will mail to an in-house list of names compiled from Churchill Downs' racetracks around the country. That effort will include prospecting as well.


Zouire and LPI are also exploring a line of golf clothes bearing the various Churchill Downs logos.


"Horse racing fans are also largely golfers," Kowalewski explained.


"Churchill Downs has fantastic data on its customers," he continued, noting that fans can be segmented into everything from a hard-partying crowd to celebrities and millionaires. Zouire and LPI want to market products to each niche.


The first week of November, Churchill Downs began e-mailing the 400,000 names from its Twin Spires Club e-mail list. The club is open to fans wanting regular updates about competing horses and jockeys. The blasts include a merchandising offer linked to the Web site and segmented by demographic information.


When it gets closer to the running of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs plans banner ads promoting the e-commerce site with all of its broadcast and trade partners.


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