SARATOGA ... IT'S EVERYWHERE!

The venerable racetrack will receive plenty of free publicity this year as its brand continues to spread

DENNIS YUSKO STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Monday, July 18, 2011

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Saratoga is poised to win loads of free publicity this summer as its brand spreads to national television, supermarkets, beer cans and coffee shops.


The 2011 racing season will receive the most national television coverage of any Saratoga Race Course meet in the track's 148-year history. NBC and VERSUS, a cable sports channel owned by NBC, will dedicate eight hours of programming over seven weekends to Saratoga and its racetrack under a new broadcast agreement with the New York Racing Association.


The free exposure would otherwise cost mountains of money, said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. He's been fielding calls from people who want to be featured on "B-roll" footage.


"Everyone wants to know how I get my location, my destination, my business, in the shot list," Shimkus said. "What destinations are they going to choose? That's the question I am hearing the most."


NYRA also has entered into new marketing opportunities with Hannaford, Dunkin' Donuts, Coors Light and Coca-Cola that will provide the track and community cost-free exposure across the state. A woman named Tatiana who won a Travers Day VIP package on the television game show "The Price Is Right" -- generating national notice for the city -- is expected to arrive in August for the big race.


But the biggest marketing splash is expected to come from the national television deal.


NBC hired Carr-Hughes Productions of Saratoga Springs to produce and direct its Saratoga stories, to be shown at 5 p.m. most Saturdays during the meet. NBC will air one-hour segments of stakes races the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23, the Alabama on Aug. 20 and the Travers Stakes on Aug. 27. VERSUS plans coverage for the Diana on July 30, Whitney on Aug. 6, Vanderbilt on Aug. 7, Sword Dancer on Aug. 13 and Woodward on Sept. 3.


The series will showcase what is special about the community, said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and VERSUS. He realized the potential of the community on a past visit.


"Saratoga is such a unique place, not just for horse racing but for Americana," Miller said in a phone interview from Denver. "So we thought, 'Why not give this a try?' "


The television contract with NYRA is for a year, with an option to renew.


Jim Carr, co-owner of Carr-Hughes Productions, said that shots from downtown, the city's social scene, architecture and history will be woven into horse racing coverage. Local viewers will recognize Saratoga landmarks in short features, opening teases, just before commercial breaks and more, said Carr, who grew up in the city.


"The theme for the first show is Saratoga and what kind of a magical place it is," he said.


This year, Hannaford supermarkets became the first major retailer to sell Saratoga merchandise. Red caps, mugs and more are available in stores as far north as Lake Placid. Coca-Cola is marketing the Travers in more than 50 Hannafords across New York and Vermont by sponsoring contests in which patrons can win a two-night hotel package in Saratoga Springs, clubhouse seats at the track and more.


Dunkin' Donuts will again sponsor the track, and this year for the first time will serve coffee and baked goods in the back yard. Also, the company created a rechargeable purchase card with an image of the track's clubhouse and grandstand that can be used in more than 200 company locations in the Capital Region, western New York, the Berkshires and western Vermont. Racing fans who present the card at the track on Mondays receive $2 off grandstand admission.


Cans and cases of Coors Light beer sold locally also carry the Saratoga Race Course logo. The opportunities drive Internet traffic to the city and county websites, and ultimately people to the community, said Shimkus of the county chamber, which reported a 13 percent increase in visitors to its website over last year.


Shimkus said that the city plans to roll out the red carpet for visitors like Tatiana, who in February won a "Price Is Right" showcase showdown that included a summertime stay in Saratoga for the Travers.


"We've already got the 'Come on down -- to Saratoga' line ready," Shimkus said.