The most exciting two minutes in sports happens every year on the first Saturday in May.
I went to watch the ponies run at Churchill Downs when I was 14 or 15, the trip a birthday gift from my parents to their horse-crazy daughter. Because I was underage, my dad only let me eat the ice out of the mint juleps. It was probably my first and last taste of bourbon until I was north of 21. Dad also placed my dollar bet on Sea Hero. He went on to win.
When we moved into our house and started throwing a Kentucky Derby party every year, we set up a simple betting system:
All horses listed on a poster board. Write your name next to the one you’re picking as the winner. It’s $1 per bet, payable to Joe (my husband), the bartender. Everyone who picks the winner splits the pot.
Betting gave everyone a horse to root for—a reason to pay attention to the race.
Money’s one way to hold someone’s attention. First, you have to capture the attention.
We had to stop throwing Derby parties for a while. They got too wild. Last Saturday I sat at home watching the coverage, hoping Bolt d’Oro would win.
I hadn’t made any bets anywhere.
I had watched two hours of NBC’s coverage.
Three hundred sixty-four and a half days of the year, most of the millions of eyeballs tuned to NBC don’t follow, care, or know anything about horse racing.
How does NBC ensure that people will tune in and stay tuned in so they can sell hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising?
They tell stories. That’s a great way to grab someone’s attention.
In the Kentucky Derby, there’s a horse for everyone. The horse bought for a few thousand dollars at auction and trained by a scrappy outsider. The favorite, one of four entries trained by an industry titan and ridden by a 52-year-old jockey who should be past his prime but continues to earn the name “Big Money Mike.” The horse with mountain lion scars. The horse that runs for a self-made millionaire who built a scaffolding company and sold it, putting himself out to pasture with his wife and daughter, not really a retirement, but a second career. A horse named after an audiobook promising a free download if the horse wins.
Every single viewer watching for more than five minutes will, by the time the bell rings, have picked a favorite because they identified with the story of the jockey, the horse, the owner, the trainer, or something else related to the animals under saddle blankets 1-20 because NBC spent the previous four or five hours telling stories that made people care. The more you watch, the more you want to watch. It’s captivating. Perfectly timed music helps, too.
I HADN’T EVEN HEARD BOLT D’ORO’S NAME BEFORE SATURDAY but I sure wanted him to win. I liked his story.
How do you tell your story so it resonates with your ideal clients?
What do you say that makes someone want to bet on you?