Four years ago, in the days running up to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, a lot of people were scrambling and wondering if Kentucky could pull off the first "horse Olympics" held outside Europe.
Thanks to a lot of help from title sponsor Alltech, including infusions of cash, promotional help moving tickets and riding boots on the ground in the form of workers at the Kentucky Horse Park, the games came off with barely a hitch.
And Alltech, the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition and feed supplements company, reaped millions of dollars in brand recognition from other businesses, farmers and the public.
According to a recent article on the 2010 games in the Journal of Brand Strategy, Alltech calculated its estimated benefit from the sponsorship at $13 million, plus mass media coverage valued at $31 million, with an Alltech logo in virtually every shot.
That was enough to persuade Alltech founder Pearse Lyons to sign on to sponsor the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Sponsorship for the games in Lexington cost $10 million, plus $20 million more to activate. The Normandy games cost 10 million euros (or $13 million) to sponsor, with the company expecting to spend a like amount to activate the sponsorship.
The 2014 Games, which began Saturday and will run through Sept. 6, will see more than 1,000 athletes from a record 74 countries, including 12 that haven't sent participants before. Ticket sales have been strong, with more than 490,000 tickets sold to at least one event. Attendance is expected to top 500,000, according to Fabien Groban, executive director of the Normandy 2014 organizing committee.
To maximize those opportunities, Alltech has shipped exhibits and volunteers to France to build a Kentucky pavilion, a Kentucky bar featuring Alltech's Bourbon Barrel Ale, and a Kentucky-branded presence at the site of each competitive event.
"We're going all out," said Catherine Keogh, Alltech chief marketing officer. "Last time, there was a huge jump in people's awareness of who we were and what we did. We'd been very well known in our industry but not so well known with the wider public. The games helped build brand awareness, helped make us a household name."
With $1 billion in sales already, Alltech hopes to leverage all that new brand awareness into bigger sales directly to farmers.
"This time we have three goals," Keogh said.
First, continue the brand building begun in 2010, she said.
The media coverage will be 200 territories, she said. "Significantly more media exposure than in 2010 — and they just announced an additional 80 hours in China and Japan," she said.
CNN International also will be there, along with more traditional media like Horse and Hound.
Secondly, reinforce business partnerships from 2010 in the equine-related businesses.
"We've had four more years of relationships," she said, "so that's a very real benefit to us and our customers."
Thirdly, the focus is shifting away from food processors and feed mills, she said.
"This time we're very actively using our sponsorship of the games to help get our names out 'on farm,'" Keogh said. "Increasingly, Alltech has become recognized at the farmer level."
Recently, she said, Alltech set up a company in France to sell directly to farmers called "Emrovit, powered by Alltech."
Already, she said, "25,000 new cows are using our products just in the last eight months."
The games have allowed the Kentucky company to make a major dairy push, particularly in the huge dairy and beef industry of the Normandy region.
A thousand European farmers are expected to visit Alltech's pavilion for a Global Dairy 500 meeting held during the French games.
Alltech has set a games target to increase sales by at least $40 million in dairy sales alone by the end of 2014, with an additional $5 million in equine sales each year.
"With the farmers in Normandy, two years ago nobody would have known Alltech," Keogh said. "But now they are aware of us, what we do and that we are sponsoring the games."
And they are sponsoring more than just the games: Alltech also is putting on a music festival, which will feature eight nights of musicians from different countries, including Kool & the Gang.
"They're very big in France," Keogh said.
Concerts might not seem to have much to do with animal feed, but 10,000 people are expected to attend nightly. And even if they don't have cows or even horses, they probably have dogs or cats.
After the 2010 games, in which Alltech also sponsored myriad events including a music festival, pet food sector sales jumped 400 percent, according to the company.
And even if they don't have pets, everybody eats: increasingly, Alltech uses sponsorship opportunities to paint a new picture in consumers' minds of agriculture, one that focuses on the potential for feeding the planet in healthy and sustainable ways.
"With the increasing disconnect between the consumer and the farmer, Alltech identified the need to celebrate those people working tirelessly in often thankless roles," according to an Alltech case study expected to be published later this year.
By highlighting individual farmer stories, often submitted by the farmers themselves, Alltech has turned its pavilion into a celebration of agriculture designed to create goodwill on all sides.