The Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is the world’s largest showcase of top-tier international racing talent, rotating each year among the premier racing venues in North America. The best horses from around the country and the world come together to compete for more than $28 million in purses and prizes, but it’s about so much more than the money. The two-day festival of racing often has significant implications on the Eclipse Awards (the American horseracing year-end championship awards), not to mention which colts and fillies will become highly coveted breeding stock chosen to create the next generation of racing superstars.
"Many say that once horseracing gets into your blood, it’s a hard habit to shake. This was all too true for Pettigrew and when the opportunity to take on the role of Senior Vice President of the NTRA came about, he jumped on it, making the move back to Lexington for good."
The Breeders’ Cup has become a brand with which many of the world’s premier labels want to align themselves, and maintaining brand uniformity amidst the ever-changing venue and market variables takes a savvy approach.
Thanks in large part to Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Pettigrew, the Breeders’ Cup navigates the challenges seamlessly, creating experiences each year for sponsors and attendees alike that embrace each city’s and host track’s unique culture.
More Than a Means to an End
While many of Pettigrew’s contemporaries might be Bluegrass-born and followed the footsteps of generations before them into the Thoroughbred industry, Pettigrew’s rise to one of the most prominent positions in the sport had a less traditional beginning.
Growing up in Oklahoma and far removed from the Thoroughbred horseracing scene, the University of Oklahoma graduate intended for his first job after college to simply be a means to an end, accepting a position at the DeBartolo-owned Remington Park as the track’s Director of Promotions.
“I had just earned my degree in Communications and was interested in sports marketing,” said Pettigrew. “I actually started working at Remington because they also owned an NFL and NHL team at the time, so I thought that would be my entry into the sports world.”
Instead, it opened Pettigrew’s eyes to a much different sporting world, igniting a passion that would chart an entirely different path for his career.
Within just four years Pettigrew was brought on by Sam Houston Race Park in Texas as their Vice President of Marketing and was eventually scouted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) to become their Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
“Several of the top executives at NTRA and the Breeders’ Cup, who we worked closely with, had business experience outside of horseracing. I felt like I needed a non-racing corporate perspective and I eventually stepped away from the NTRA to create my own company, Affinity Sports Marketing,” said Pettigrew.
Based near Dallas-Ft. Worth, Affinity Sports Marketing served as a consulting agency for Fortune 500 companies including AT&T, McDonalds, John Deere and Best Buy, advising them on entertainment, sports marketing, young adult marketing and business ventures. The company also produced more than 30 national marketing and promotional events for its clients each year.
Many say that once horseracing gets into your blood, it’s a hard habit to shake. This was all too true for Pettigrew and when the opportunity to take on the role of Senior Vice President of the NTRA came about, he jumped on it, making the move back to Lexington for good.
Horseracing’s Ultimate Ambassador
Originally formed through start-up funds provided by the Keeneland, Oak Tree, Breeders’ Cup and other racing interests, the NTRA and Breeders’ Cup were once merged, but continue to have similar goals of improving the sport. Both organizations have recently announced plans to move from their suburban locations off of Harrodsburg Road to the heart of downtown Lexington.
The synergy between the two organizations made for a smooth transition in 2015 when Pettigrew was brought on by the Breeders’ Cup as the company’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sponsorship.
Throughout his career and continuing today, Pettigrew has become horseracing’s ultimate ambassador, often tasked with introducing people to the sport. It’s a role he not only plays well, but relishes.
“When I was at Sam Houston, every day was fan education day. I lived in the fourth largest city in the U. S. and horseracing was new and exciting. Almost every meeting or day I was hosting business leaders, political dignitaries or potential sponsors at the races and I was educating people about the sport,” said Pettigrew. “I’ve probably taken more people to the horse races than anyone else in the sport. I truly enjoy explaining the business, from an agricultural perspective to the fan experience to the wagering options, helping them to really experience and understand what makes it so special.”
"I truly enjoy explaining the business, from an agricultural perspective to the fan experience to the wagering options, helping them to really experience and understand what makes it so special.”
His roles with the Breeders’ Cup have also afforded him the opportunity to travel around the world and experience how racing is presented to the public at venues in England, Ireland, Qatar, France, Canada and Argentina. That insight helps Pettigrew and his team to enhance the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships each year not only with an increasingly international flare, but also with the aim of attracting newer, younger audiences to the sport of horseracing.
“Millennials equate world championships as evening events, and that is one way the Breeders’ Cup has evolved to become more desirable to them,” said Pettigrew. “Younger fans have more things to do and more places to go these days than generations before them. We now show the Breeders’ Cup’s biggest races during prime time to attract younger viewers.”
Creating This Year’s Del Mar Experience
When the Breeders’ Cup was held in Lexington in 2015, one of the ways Pettigrew and his team engaged the local community was through the creation of the Breeders’ Cup Festival, a community-wide celebration of the Breeders’ Cup paired with the things that are unique to the city.
“We don’t put on the same event each year. We try to make each year authentic to the host city and track, because each market is so different."
With the Breeders’ Cup being held at Del Mar in San Diego, California for the first time on November 3rd and 4th, Pettigrew and his team are hard at work to create world-class experiences that embrace San Diego’s friendly, casual and “beach-y” vibe.
“We don’t put on the same event each year. We try to make each year authentic to the host city and track, because each market is so different,” said Pettigrew. “People come from all over the world, as well as the casual fans attending their first Breeders’ Cup simply because it’s in their own backyard any given year, so we want the Festival and the racing days themselves to have the local look, feel and to celebrate the city’s culture.•