Letter to the Editor: The Fan Development Opportunity of a Global Pandemic

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Photo courtesy Horse Country

Fasig Tipton, Keeneland, Breeders’ Cup offer emergency support to Visit Horse Country as Virtual Tours Spike Worldwide Attention on Kentucky’s Horse Industry

Two weeks ago, operations at Horse Country HQ switched tracks, along with many others, as we and our members began to absorb the realities around COVID-19. Faced with growing warnings about transmission, travel interruptions, and event cancellations or postponements, experiences at member locations became deprioritized in favor of caution and best practices. That Wednesday, Mar. 11, was the last day of normal operations before we began a record number of cancellations across all member locations.

In the months that would normally be the strongest sales period in our fiscal year (March–June), the organization now faces cascading cancellations resulting in negative transaction balances and an uncertain timeline to our next positive revenue. But we are a mission-driven fan development organization that seeks to connect guests to the horse, land and people through experiences that inspire love of the animal and Kentucky, so we got to work on how to do that while simultaneously figuring out how to mitigate the financial upheaval we are experiencing.

Our members jumped at the chance to engage fans through Virtual Tours that are now populating a page on our site www.visithorsecountry.com/virtual-tours and the social media feeds of our members who are able to participate using essential farm staff while abiding regulations and best practices. Some are cutting together experiences combining footage and Q&A or even hosting classes such as virtual handicapping.

These offerings have engaged tens of thousands of viewers (and growing) and have landed us in Southern Living, Yahoo, Frommer’s and more, allowing us to tell our good stories. We’re filling time for the cooped-up, stressed-out masses with furry foals, rolling hills, chirping birds and unpretentious and yes, sometimes even a little unpolished, interactive content as we all learn how to ‘live stream’ on social media for heaven’s sake. Even more, some of those viewers are kiddos in virtual classroom watch parties with their teachers and parents, soaking up this fun, educational content together.

Together, we’re opening a door for racing in one small way– but I share all this for what it highlights: Horse Country is able to treat our guests and customers with kindness and flexibility, give time and attention to developing and promoting innovative ways to reach people and engage positive and proactive storytelling and public relations specifically because we are a not-for-profit membership organization. Our job is to realize the mission of fan development; if we do that, we will to earn support from our members and community.

Today, in the midst of their own uncertainties, our industry stepped up to say Horse Country is mission-critical for our sport. Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup each has contributed $20,000 and several members have opted to forgo tour revenue to support operations in this time. I’m humbled and grateful–and excited–this fall is sure to be a wonderful opportunity for horse racing and we’ll be there at the ready.

So I thank our industry supporters and our members who’ve stepped up and who are with us every day. And I’d offer an invitation for anyone who may want to learn more about getting involved with Horse Country and our mission–I’d love to hear from you any time (from a distance, for now).

–Anne Sabatino Hardy, Executive Director, Horse Country Kentucky

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