Watch a Brand Turn 2 Minutes into $246 Million

May 6th is the first Saturday in May. That means it’s time for the Kentucky Derby (aka “the Run for Roses” or “the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports”).

The Derby rarely disappoints. That was certainly true two years ago when American Pharaoh began a three-win stretch to become the first Triple Crown Winner in over 30 years.

Forbes consistently ranks the Run for the Roses as one of the top 10 sporting events in the world. The NFL’s Super Bowl, the Summer & Winter Olympic Games, and MLB’s World Series rank above the Kentucky Derby, but no other event generates a whopping $123 million in economic impact per minute of actual ‘game time’.

The Kentucky Derby is much more than a two minute competition. It’s several days of races, weeks of events, and years of preparation – all leading up to The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.

I offer 6 Kentucky Derby business lessons and questions you should consider about your organization. Applying some of these ideas might both improve your financial performance and your organization’s culture.

1. Pageantry

Imagine yourself walking into Churchill Downs on Derby Day. It’s crowded – very crowded. Everywhere you look, people are wearing their best. Women in beautiful dresses and stunning hats. Men decked out in suits and bow ties. Mint juleps in hand, people are singing My Old Kentucky Home.

At the same time, millions of viewers are watching the event on television. Many of them also donning derby attire, enjoying a good meal, and singing along.

The bugler plays The Call to the Post and horses are loaded into the starting gates. Everything is set. That’s pageantry!

  • Does your product or service create a bit of anticipation or excitement?
  • Do you and your people deliver a bit of a show?
  • If not, is there a chance to create something special for your customers and employees?

2. Past 

Every year, Churchill Downs and the city of Louisville add to the Kentucky Derby Festival. They host concerts, parades, road races, gala events, and fashion shows. Celebrities trek to the city to watch the horses run. Heck, in 2013 the Queen of England made the trip.

The annual improvements make the race interesting, but much of the appeal comes from the Derby’s long history. The first Kentucky Derby took place in 1875, making this year’s Run for the Roses the 143rd of its kind. In fact, the Kentucky Derby is the longest continuously held sporting event in the United States. It isn’t just a race; it’s legendary.

  • Do you have an organizational culture that pays homage to its history?
  • How does your business stay fresh and relevant?
  • Is your product or service both timely and timeless?

3. Place

The twin spires of Churchill Downs are iconic. If you think you don’t know what they look like, do a quick internet search and you will likely recognize them. If you do find them unfamiliar, register the image in your mind, because you will see it again and again.

Over the years, many additions have been made to Churchill Downs. However, the spires remain, the backside stables remain, and the infield remains. They are icons of this fabled place.

  • What is iconic about your business?
  • Does your organization stay true to certain images, names, and descriptions that create a ‘special’ place in your customers’ minds?
  • Does your workspace reflect the culture you desire?

4. Product (thoroughbreds and others)

When 20 horses leave the starting gate, you can’t help but get a rush of adrenaline. It is intense, frightening, and powerful all at once.

As post time approaches, we become familiar with where the horses were bred, their lineage, and their unusual names. We also learn about the trainers, jockeys, and owners. These are all products of the Kentucky Derby.

  • Do your products or service generate excitement, loyalty, or any other positive emotion?
  • What could your organization do to create something that deserves attention?

5. Preparation

Yes, the Kentucky Derby only lasts two minutes, but the event is not coordinated at a moment’s notice. It takes planning, coordination, and collaboration to make two minutes come together. Think about the level of preparation required by the media, the facility, the trainers and owners, the police, and the list goes on and on?

What’s make the event go so well every year is that much of the preparation appears seamless to the attendees.

  • Do you put Kentucky Derby like preparation into your organization’s most important events, projects, or initiatives?
  • What can you do to better coordinate future activities?
  • How often do you explicitly think through the experience you are trying to create for your employees and customers?

6. Participation

The annual Run for the Roses allows for a unique level of participation. Few people passively watch the Kentucky Derby – most participate. People aren’t watching a scripted movie or a long-running play.

The outcome is not predetermined. Even if you are not a gambler, you can’t help but pick a horse and do your best to cheer your steed to the Winner’s Circle.

  • Do your customers and employees have a vested interest in seeing your business win?
  • Is winning part of your organization’s culture?
  • What can you do to get more stakeholders cheering for your organization?

To Help You Prepare for the Race…

If you are reading this before the Derby, here are the odds on the top three horses to win the race:

  • Always Dreaming (odds 5-1)
  • Classic Empire (odds 5-1)
  • Gunnevera (odds 6-1)

For those who love long shots, here are the two longest shots at the moment:

  • Fast and Accurate (odds 80-1)
  • Fact Finding  (odds 100-1)

If the Derby has already taken place when you read this or you just can’t make it happen this time, make plans to mark it off your bucket list next year!

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