A horse by any other name simply wouldn't have worked for UPS.
Capitalizing on the buzz around thoroughbred racing's biggest event, UPS has inked a sponsorship deal with Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, who was named in honor of the shipping giant known for its distinctive brown trucks and uniforms.
The marketing coup has already won big media exposure and brand recognition for the original Big Brown — a rare opportunity the company candidly concedes galloped straight into its lap.
"Prior to all of this happening, we had no intention of placing sponsorship with a thoroughbred horse group," said UPS spokesman Norman Black. "But when we found out the horse was actually named after UPS, we got together and decided to jump on it, realizing the great marketing opportunity."
"We were very opportunistic, make no bones about it," added Black, who called sponsoring the conveniently named colt and Triple Crown prospect "a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Thoroughbred teams have received corporate sponsorship since 2003, but Big Brown is the first derby winner with a tailor-made corporate nickname.
"It's a marketing person's dream," said Kelly Wietsma, president of Equisponse, a horse racing marketing agency that negotiated the deal on behalf of Big Brown's majority owner, IEAH Stables, and jockey Kent Desormeaux. "I mean, it was such a no-brainer."
The partnership has already paid off for UPS, also known as United Parcel Service. UPS logos on Desormeaux's pants garnered 56 seconds of on-screen time during the May 3 derby, said Eric Wright of Joyce Julius Associates, a corporate sponsorship research firm. UPS's brand was also mentioned on television and in hundreds of news articles, netting an estimated $1.4 million worth of total media exposure, Wright said.
The sponsorship deal makes UPS the exclusive sponsor of the Big Brown team for Saturday's Preakness and the June 7 Belmont Stakes — the second and third leg in the Triple Crown, which no horse has won in 30 years. Big Brown is the favorite to win on Saturday.
It adds a dash of Madison Avenue-style glitz to the tradition-steeped pageantry of thoroughbred racing. Desormeaux will don a UPS cap after the races.
Paul Pompa Jr., owner of Truck-Rite Corp. in Brooklyn, New York, christened the colt Big Brown after renewing a freight contract with UPS last year, but said he didn't expect it would turn into a splashy sponsorship deal.
"I never though of that at all. I simply named the horse after a very big client of my trucking business," said Pompa, who sold a 75% stake in the horse to IEAH Stable for about $3 million after his first race.
Neither UPS nor Big Brown's team are discussing the terms of the marketing deal, which comes at a key moment as horse racing struggles to attract fans and corporate sponsors.
"It's the perfect storm in that Big Brown has the right name and cast around him to not only promote the sponsor but the sport in general," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
But there are potential pitfalls for sponsors. Big Brown's runaway victory in the Kentucky Derby was largely overshadowed by the tragedy of runner-up Eight Belles, who broke both front ankles after galloping past the finish line. The filly had to be euthanized on the track as more than 157,000 attending fans and millions of TV viewers watched.