High-profile sports competitions draw jet-setting fans from across the globe to see and be seen while they immerse themselves in the grandeur and excitement of sport.
The top echelon of these sporting events come with all manner of pre- and post-competition festivities, such as parties, food festivals and the like.
The top horse races are the epitome of this spectacle, with finely attired revelers sipping mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby or, since 1984, attending the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which attracts the cream of Thoroughbred breeders and racers to locations throughout the U.S. for two days of high-style horsing around. Think haute dining, trackside fashion shows, top-bill entertainment and celebrity sightings galore.
Featuring 14 races over the two days, this year held at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday, November 2, and Saturday, November 3, 2018, the event represents a prime opportunity to reward high achievers, engage in a high-end corporate retreat or woo current and potential clients with an incentive trip.
Meetings Today reached out to Bryan Pettigrew, senior vice president of marketing and sponsorship for the Breeders’ Cup, to get his opinion on why events such as his are an ideal option for an incentive trip.
Meetings Today: What makes sporting incentive trips attractive to groups?
Bryan Pettigrew: One of the main objectives for an incentive trip or corporate retreat is to facilitate employee bonding. As major sporting events often offer a history-making moment, they create a unique opportunity for employees to do just that over the shared, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Additionally, many major sporting events these days include a host of other activities and celebrations in conjunction with the main event, making for a well-rounded experience that everyone can enjoy.
MT: What features and opportunities do sporting incentive trips offer beyond those available on resort-centric incentive trips?
BP: While resort-centric incentive trips offer a great retreat for employees, a sporting event provides excitement, anticipation and camaraderie that those trips simply cannot offer. Horse racing specifically gives you two minutes of action, and then time to talk, entertain and network, before the next race.
MT: Do participants have to be sports fans to enjoy and appreciate sporting incentive trips?
BP: Not at all! Many high-level sporting events have developed from a one-dimensional match or race into an all-inclusive lifestyle experience, boasting the best of cuisine, entertainment and hospitality, thereby ensuring a positive experience for all attendees whether they have a proclivity toward sports or not.
Some of these larger-scale events often also include a host of complementary activities and activations surrounding the main event. The 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, for example, follows a week-long Breeders’ Cup Festival that has featured culinary events, charitable fundraisers for local and industry not-for-profits, parties, networking events and more.
MT: Many high-profile sporting events take place at storied venues in major cities. How do these factors amplify the experience?
BP: Not only do certain sporting events allow people access to some of the industry’s most prized venues, but they also offer an opportunity for people to explore a city that may not have been on their immediate radar before. Host cities often invest a significant amount of time and resources into community-wide activations and infrastructure surrounding a major sporting event that’s primed to bring a lot of visitors to their streets, making for the best time to arrange a trip to the destination.
MT: How can meetings and events planners prepare to deal with challenges related to transportation and other logistical concerns at in-demand sporting events?
BP: Major event dates and locations are typically announced years in advance, taking the uncertainty out of the planning process and giving planners ample time to work out the details. Additionally, events of this nature are well familiarized with drawing out plans for transportation, accommodations and more.
Many even offer extensive “Know Before you Go” informational materials and guides through their websites and apps and sometimes offer real-time updates by deploying sophisticated “push messages” or alerts straight to guests’ mobile devices.
MT: What makes the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in particular an exciting, memorable destination for incentive groups?
BP: More than just a horse race, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships combines world-class dining, exciting entertainment and luxury hospitality with the sport’s best racing, horses, jockeys and wagering for a truly unparalleled entertainment experience worth traveling for. The most exciting two days of horseracing makes for an unforgettable trip as employees bond over the thrilling and sometimes history-making races.
MT: What kinds of celebrations and events surround the Breeders’ Cup World Championships?
BP: Beyond the exceptional entertainment, cuisine and accommodations featured as part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships itself, the event caps off a full week of exciting celebrations and activations that comprise the Breeders’ Cup Festival. Past events have included eclectic food fairs, pop-up art programs, 5K races, galas and cocktail receptions, and more. We work closely with the local communities to showcase the best that each has to offer and provide traveling and local fans alike with ample ways to keep busy throughout the week.
MT: What are some good strategies to “market” a sports event incentive to the intended audience?
BP: Emphasizing the many supplementary activities and lifestyle elements that are offered in conjunction with the main event can help to reiterate its universality and appeal. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, from activating on social media to a targeted email campaign to circulating professional-grade marketing materials such as event brochures.
MT: How does one go about getting tickets to sporting events that may be very in demand?
BP: As I mentioned, many high-profile sporting events announce their host-site and dates years in advance, so planners have ample time to purchase tickets.
At Breeders’ Cup, we have a dedicated team in place to help organize seating and ticketing for groups. Beyond helping to identify the optimal space for a particular group type, the team also coordinates custom experiences such as backside tours, parking passes and enhanced hospitality.
MT: What is the ideal group size?
BP: Most major sporting facilities and events have a variety of seating areas that can accommodate groups of any size. That said, as a main priority for an incentive trip or corporate retreat is to facilitate employee bonding, smaller groups tend to better accomplish this goal.