Churchill Downs bets on data to turn Kentucky Derby fans into year-round horse racing enthusiasts

The official betting platform of the Kentucky Derby wants to better use data to create year-round engagement -- and wagers. / Coady Photography: https://www.kentuckyderby.com/horses/untrapped

The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby – the so-called “most exciting two minutes in sports” – takes place Saturday (May 6). It is the oldest continuously held major sporting event in North America, drawing more than 150,000 people each yearincluding lots of women in big hats – and serving up nearly 120,000 mint juleps with 1000 pounds of mint and 60,000 pounds of ice, along with one rousing rendition of My Old Kentucky Home.

And, naturally, it’s also a big day for gambling. In fact, in 2016, wagering from all sources on the Kentucky Derby Day program was the second highest ever with $192.6m. What’s more, online wagering platform Twinspires.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Churchill Downs Racetrack and the official wagering partner of the Kentucky Derby, recorded $26.8m in handle on Churchill Downs races for the 2016 Derby Day program, which marked an increase of 29% over the year prior.

This year, Always Dreaming seems to be the favorite with 4-1 odds as of 7:00 ET on Friday (May 5) with poor Untrapped on the opposite end of the spectrum with 61-1 odds.

“On Derby day, we will process several million wagers, including all types of users, from the first-time player to seasoned pros,” said Ian Williams, vice president of marketing at Twinspires, in a statement.

But Twinspires wants these consumers to be engaged with – and to place bets on – horse racing all year long, which is why it is working with B2C marketing cloud company Emarsys to improve customer retention and engagement – as well as to grow revenue.

According to a press release, Twinspires is using the Emarsys platform to generate “highly targeted and personalized omnichannel marketing campaigns over email, web, mobile app and SMS channels”.

In other words, Emarsys allows Twinspires to analyze users based on data like their favorite jockeys, horses and trainers, as well as how much they wager, said Sean Brady, president of the Americas at Emarsys.

“In the app, [Twinspires collects] data about users and they were struggling with so much data to find segments of people,” Brady added.

Emarsys, however, can help speed up the analysis of data and the creation of user segments – to the tune of seconds, Brady said.

So, for example, if a user likes a particular trainer and a certain jockey and wants to know when their races are coming up, Emarsys can help create a customer segment for that user and send push notifications about, say, odds going into the next race featuring said trainer or jockey.

“This is just how racing works,” Brady said. “The odds are constantly changing by the minute based on how people bet. Many people want alerts in real time or [to know] if a horse gets scratched…one of their customers is going to want to know if a horse gets scratched before the event because they may want to change their bet.”

Algorithms on the back end make sure accurate odds are being served up, but also help cater the timing of messaging so users receive content when they want it, Brady said.

“We’re sending optimized messages based on the time that individual tends to do wagering,” he added. “Instead of 9am because that’s when you want to go out [with your message], look at the contact record and send it to them at that optimal time they do that wagering.”

In particular, the release said Twinspires is using mobile engagement tools from Emarsys in its app and has plans to access AI-enabled marketing features “to orchestrate cognitive email campaign strategies with individualized personalization and engagement”.

In the end, Twinspires will push out value-add content that will help elevate – and differentiate – its race day experience versus other events, Brady said.

“This includes extending the relationship and engagement with players who register to play during peak periods — such as the Kentucky Derby — by creating AI-based marketing automations with email and push notifications to keep contacts engaged with valuable content and offers through the rest of the racing season,” the release said. “Additionally, Twinspires.com wishes to responsibly deepen the relationship with highly loyal customers who engage and wager with them regularly.”

This means Twinspires can potentially derive more users placing more wagers, but it also wants to create loyal fans and “help people fall in love with horse racing in general”, Brady said.

“The data generated from our Derby campaigns need the stamina to last throughout the year,” Williams added. “This isn’t simply personalization, it’s individualizing our customers and essential to further understanding their needs and preferences. With Emarsys, we have full support to capture this intelligence and to design engagements that deliver the best horse racing wagering experience for our players’ year round.”

Twinspires said it is the largest legal online account wagering platform for horseracing in the US, accepting over $1bn in wagers annually.

Twinspires became an Emarsys customer in late 2016. According to the website, Twinspires players can stream live races and instant replays, access free handicapping resources and place bets via web, mobile, tablet, app and phone 365 days a year.

For its part, the Kentucky Derby said over $150m is won by bettors each year.

Fast food company Yum Brands is the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby.

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