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Kentucky Derby: The Power Of The Race’s Audience And Marketing Potential

April 25, 2019 Victoria Pallien

kentucky derby

The Kentucky Derby is nearly a week away on Saturday, May 4. Last year, the Kentucky Derby raked in 16.2 million viewers on NBC and welcomed 157,813 fans into the stadium.

Viewership of the horse race is steadily growing — 9% year-over-year in 2018 and 12% since 2011, according to Nielsen.

What Is The Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby, the longest running sporting event in the U.S., dating to 1875, is a roughly two-minute long horse race, often called “The Run for the Roses.” The event is iconic in the way of southern culture and encourages many game day traditions, like drinking mint juleps and wearing large hats.

Who Are The Kentucky Derby Fans?

Each year, the Kentucky Derby welcomes a wide and diverse array of viewers.

The Gamblers

Nielsen reported that consumers who have an aptitude for gambling have a higher interest in horseracing than the general adult population. Consumers who watched the 2017 Kentucky Derby were more likely to visit a casino, put money in a slot machine or play table games than the average consumer.

The Sports Fans

Sports fans were also more likely to watch the Kentucky Derby and be interested in the game than the average consumer.

Female Viewers

52% of Kentucky Derby viewers were female last year, which makes the Derby the only major televised sport that interests more female viewers than male viewers.

What Are The Kentucky Derby Traditions?

This infamous horse race has numerous traditions that have been passed down since its initial year. Below are two of the most engaging and beloved Kentucky Derby traditions, which were inspired by the event’s posh atmosphere focused on high-class style and taste.

Fashion: Hats Take Center Stage

The hats sit front and center at the fashion show that is the Kentucky Derby. These looks were initially inspired by founder Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.’s vision that the Kentucky Derby would be a high-class event with mandated “full morning dress” for both men and women.

Food And Drink: Mint Juleps Cool Consumers

Kentucky Derby Food And Drink: Mint Juleps Cool Consumers

At every annual Kentucky Derby, nearly 120,000 mint juleps are served throughout the horse racing event grounds. The Kentucky Derby refers to the drink as “cool as Kentucky, fresh as spring.” The mint julep has been the traditional beverage of the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, KY for the past 100 years.

How Do Consumers Watch The Kentucky Derby?

Each year since 1952, the Kentucky Derby is broadcasted exclusively by NBC. Consumers can watch via cable or stream the sporting event on the NBC app or at

The Kentucky Derby Offers Diverse Marketing Opportunities

The racetrack knows, based on ticket prices and consumer demographics, that front-side ticket holders are mostly (78%) 35 years old and older, or Gen Xers, while infield attendees are mostly 18 to 34 years old (70%), or Millennials. As expected, the average household income for attendees sitting in the front-side area is higher than the attendees sitting in the infield.

“We know so much about our audience depending on the experience they choose to have, so we match brands with their specific demographic focus,” Kristin Warfield, Vice President of Sales and Partnerships at Churchill Downs.

For example, at the 2017 Kentucky Derby, Sentient Jet, the private jet company, targeted 5,000 out of the 170,000 event attendees. The brand held on-site activations in the ticketed and private sections of the racetrack. In other words, Sentient only marketed to ideal consumers, those who could potentially afford their brand. Warfield said, “The people in the infield may not know that Sentient is a partner, because it’s not the right target audience. There’s no wasted advertising; it’s 100 percent efficient for who they want to reach.”

Ghirardelli chocolate kentucky Derby

On the other hand, sponsor Ram Trucks focused on their marketing initiatives on the infield seating areas, targeting consumers who would most likely be interested in investing in trucks to tow horse trailers and farm equipment, a more mainstream audience.

Different still, Ghirardelli chocolate targeted the entire Derby consumer base, from affluent to low-income, luxury to mainstream.

Ghirardelli chocolate kentucky Derby

The chocolate brand hosted tastings for their Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel Squares on the event grounds and promoted easy recipes through both the Ghirardelli and Kentucky Derby social media platforms.

The chocolate brand also teamed up with Louisville-native and influencer Josh Johnson, known on Instagram as @TheKentuckyGent. Together, Ghirardelli and Johnson crafted Derby cocktails inspired by the Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel Squares and hosted a giveaway, where one lucky @TheKentuckyGent follower won Ghirardelli chocolates.

Kentucky Derby Ghirardelli Chocolate

Assistant Brand Manager at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company Rachel Messinger said, “Given the Kentucky Derby’s location in bourbon country and its rich heritage, we thought it [advertising the Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel Squares] was a natural fit.”

“A group of people will tune in for the horses, a group who will tune in for the social aspect and a group that will tune in for wagering,” Warfield said. “The retention rate of our sponsors speaks to the value. We have a low partner turnover because it’s working for them.”

With such a diverse audience, Kentucky Derby sponsorships include Vineyard Vines, a luxury brand, Stella Artois, a mainstream brand, and numerous additional brands with target audiences that fall between affluent and lower income. With nearly 160,000 in-person attendees and 16.2 million viewers, the sporting event’s scope spans far and wide, allowing brands to target their ideal consumers during a beloved race.

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About the Author

Victoria Pallien

Victoria Pallien is a Marketing Communications Writer at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. DMS helps its clients accelerate growth by deploying diversified and data-driven customer acquisition solutions that deliver scalable, sustainable and measurable marketing results. DMS performance marketing solutions connect the right consumers with the right offers at the right time to achieve the marketing objectives of our clients. DMS is continually innovating to provide new and emerging media and technology solutions that minimize waste and maximize results across the most competitive industries. Since its inception, DMS has demonstrated incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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