By Walter Nicholls Posted April 2, 2009, 10:00 AM EDT
WASHINGTON The race never stops for Katie Snyder, director of development for the Virginia Gold Cup Association. Based in Warrenton, Virginia, Snyder and her full-time staff of four produce the Old Dominion’s largest twice-yearly horse race, with the leading purses for timber racing (jumping fences) in the country. The two race days in spring and fall draw a total of more than 85,000 fans to the 175-acre Great Meadow equestrian facility and event venue in the town of The Plains for one of the biggest social and sporting events in the D.C. area.
Before taking the Gold Cup reins in summer 2007, Snyder was the associate director of corporate development for the Sundance Institute in Los Angeles and also practiced law. Her efforts at Gold Cup have added new corporate-sponsorship opportunities, such as a Chairman's Box and JumboTrons, to an already action-packed day at the races. In addition to the ever-popular Jack Russell terrier races (sponsored by the Virginia Lottery) and tailgate competition (sponsored by Goodstone Inn and Estate), there are now nearly 25 sponsored programs and activities. We spoke to Snyder as she nailed down details for the upcoming Virginia Gold Cup race May 2.
When do you start planning for Gold Cup?
We start about 18 months out. This year will be the 84th running for the spring races, and our major vendors for tents, equipment, and catering have multiyear contracts to receive the best pricing. But so far this year we are seeing an 8 to 10 percent decline in ticket sales from 2008. Still, our attendance is very diverse, from young socialites to college alumni to business groups, as well as neighborhood families and friends. These groups annually book tailgate spots or buy the higher-end tickets on Members Hill for the spring tradition of seeing and being seen.
With traditional ways of advertising changing, what social networking sites are you using to get the word out?
Virginia Gold Cup races are now listed as events on Facebook, enabling members to invite their friends, post pictures, and get up-to-date information on the event. Establishing a presence on Twitter is our next step.
On the Virginia Gold Cup Race page we developed a blog two years ago, which was the most visited area of the Web site and a place that we kept fun and silly to get people to visit often. Over the past two years our advertising strategy has moved away from print media ads to more of an online presence.
What types of sponsorships are available and, in these economic times, is it harder or easier to fill them up?
We have definitely seen the sponsorship pool shrink, although we've kept long-term supporters like Fidelity Investment, Airbus Industries, and Booz Allen Hamilton. Instead of generating 15 to 20 proposals for six to 10 major sponsors, you have to generate 40-plus proposals to land fewer sponsors. Also, the proposals have to really show a value to the customer to receive a positive response. And some long-term sponsors, under the current economic condition, are asking for the same package with a reduction in the cost.
Hospitality tent sales, where companies can entertain their top clients, and which have always been the high-end player of the event, are a bit soft, with many previous tent members downsizing their parties. The good news is that companies continue to value the event as a great networking opportunity and continue to attend, but perhaps choosing to downsize their catering offerings.