The last time a horse won the Triple Crown—1978, when Affirmed did it—the sports marketing world was a very different place.
In those days, the height of sophistication in sports-centric advertising was watching Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin argue about whether Miller Lite was less-filling or tasted great.
In the decades since, omnichannel ad deals, inescapable brand logos, product placements and social media plugs have become the norm, and all are likely to be on tap if American Pharoah wins the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, which would give the 3-year-old thoroughbred the elusive-but-coveted Triple Crown distinction.
Yesterday, it was revealed that private jet service Wheels Up and beverages brand Monster Energy had inked exclusive deals with American Pharoah's team: Egyptian-American owner Ahmed Zayat; Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert; and legendary jockey Victor Espinoza.
"Our brand is less than two years old," Bill Allard, co-founder of Wheels Up, told Adweek. "This was an opportunity for us to seed [our brand] and enabled us to preempt anyone else that was looking to do the same."
Compared to last year, when California Chrome went for the Triple Crown, American Pharoah's run will be more dressed up with marketing. Here's what Allard's brand and Monster Energy are getting:
- Wheels Up's logo will be emblazoned down Espinoza's jockey pants leg.
- Zayat—who will no doubt be shown on the tube countless times before, during and after the race—will wear a Wheels Up ballcap and in the winner's circle (if Pharoah comes in first).
- A Monster Energy blanket will appear on the horse during his walk up to the starting gate.
- "Monster girls"—young women wearing branded clothing—will also appear during the walk-up.
- The drink's logo will appear on Espinoza's shirt collar.
- Zayat and his son, American Pharoah co-owner Justin Zayat, (pictured) are wearing Wheels Up and Monster Energy ballcaps today while being interviewed for cable business news programs on channels like CNBC.
Ben Sturner is president of Leverage Agency, a sports marketing company that handled the branded deals.
"We're taking advertising to a different level," Sturner said. "Being part of history is something money cannot buy."
In 2014, Espinoza charged utility nonprofit Common Ground Alliance $89,000 for wearing that marketer's logo on his pants as he rode California Chrome. None of the parties would comment on pricing for this year, but it's clearly a more elaborate effort. For instance, Espinoza last year didn't team up with California Chrome's owner and trainer for exclusive sponsorship deals like he is with American Pharoah's proprietors.
The Triple Crown has become all business.
If American Pharoah wins, it may be marketing gold that sponsors cash in on well beyond the appearances during NBC's broadcast. The video clips will undoubtedly be played and shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube millions of times.
And Wheels Up's social media team will be live-tweeting all day on Saturday from Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
"Thirty-seven years ago, there wasn't social media," Allard said. "You can imagine what [a win] will be like on a global basis. It's an opportunity of lifetime for us."