The University of Kentucky is providing medical services to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but its greatest help to the Games might come from basketball.
UK Athletics, which boasts the only unbeaten Division I basketball team in the country, sent a blast e-mail to 22,000 football and basketball ticket holders earlier this month, encouraging them to attend the Games. That letter was signed by men's basketball coach John Calipari and football coach Joker Phillips. Then they got an even bigger boost when Calipari gave an enthusiastic plug for the Games during his Hoops for Haiti telethon last weekend.
That kind of exposure is invaluable, said Terry Johnson, director of marketing for the World Games Foundation.
"UK basketball is in a white-hot moment, and with how charismatic and visible he is in the state, it's a big help," Johnson said of Calipari. "He sees this as a huge event, an opportunity to help the commonwealth."
The idea for the UK Athletics e-mail was a collaboration between UK and WEG organizers, said Tom Harris, UK's vice president for external affairs. UK's initial involvement was to provide all the medical and emergency services at the Kentucky Horse Park during the Games.
"We're trying to promote them as much as we can, and this is one idea we came up with," Harris said. Another idea is to send e-mail messages to Auburn fans, who will be attending a UK-Auburn football game in Lexington on Oct. 9, the last weekend of the Games. The Games will be Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.
People can expect to see much more advertising as spring approaches, Johnson said. Ads already are on TV to try to spur ticket sales to people inside and outside of Lexington.
About 150,000 tickets have been sold. General admission tickets won't go on sale until April, when organizers expect to see a big bump in sales from local and regional residents who want to see the general spectacle at the Horse Park.
Johnson said marketing and sponsorships also are getting a boost now that Jim Host has returned to help the Games. As a pioneer of sports marketing, Host helped Kentucky get the Games bid.
Host had recently attended a large breakfast put on by Greater Louisville Inc., the city's chamber of commerce, to raise awareness of the Games, and is coordinating efforts between the business communities in Lexington and Northern Kentucky in hopes of improving ticket sales and possible sponsorships in Kentucky's Golden Triangle.
Some businesses also might be interested in buying luxury "hospitality" packages being offered for VIP viewing of the events.
Host said organizers also did a presentation at the Keeneland Yearling Sale, with plans to talk to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
"Several people told me they wanted to get involved, they just hadn't known how before now," Host said.
The World Games Foundation is in charge of raising the $76 million operating budget for the Games. While sponsorships have taken an obvious hit during the recession, Host said he was pleased with the progress.
"They've done a good job up to this point, much better than all the rumors that exist," he said in a recent interview. "They've already exceeded 60 percent of their goals. A number of past Olympic events have not been in this good a shape. I'm just going to help them get across the finish line."
Possibly the Games' biggest marketer is its title sponsor — the Nicholasville-based feed company Alltech.
Admittedly, more people at the Games means more people who see the Alltech brand, but CEO Pearse Lyons talks about the Games every chance he gets. Alltech also has created a 13-person department dedicated solely to the event. And the company is putting on the Alltech Fortnight Festival, two weeks of arts and performance leading up to the Games. Alltech officials estimate they've spent $10 million to $15 million marketing the Games on top of their $10 million title sponsorship.
"Day 17 of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is too late for us to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime branding opportunity," said Alltech spokeswoman Susanna Elliott.