Get ready for Big Brown-themed Beanie Babies, lapel pins, ball caps and maybe even booze.
As Saturday's Belmont Stakes draws closer, the prized colt is the favorite to capture the first Triple Crown in 30 years. His handlers are already eyeing ways to cash in on the feat, if he wins, and that means merchandising – lots of it.
“We're definitely going to mass market in a way that's never been done in our industry,” said Kelly Wietsma, president of Equisponse, a horse racing marketing agency that represents Big Brown's owner, IEAH Stables. “I want every kid in America to be able to walk into a Wal-Mart and buy a Big Brown shirt or a Big Brown Beanie Baby.”
To make that happen, IEAH has partnered with sports marketing firm 16W Marketing, which handles licensing and sponsorship deals for current and former players from the National Football League.
Big Brown's team is betting that big TV exposure for the Belmont coupled with the rarity of a Triple Crown shot will translate into major licensing and endorsements deals. There's even talk of Big Brown making a coveted pilgrimage usually reserved for the country's most celebrated athletes.
“We did get a phone call about him going to Disneyland,” Wietsma said, adding that no decision has been made on the trip.
Frank Vuono, president of 16W Marketing, said other offers have been pouring in from companies eager to attach their products to Big Brown. While declining to name them or the financial terms of any deals, he said plans are in the works for apparel, memorabilia, collectibles, blankets and “probably an alcoholic beverage,” among other products.
“It runs the gamut in licensing,” Vuono said. “We've actually got the possibility to do postage stamps.”
Big Brown, who is sponsored by UPS Inc., the shipping giant he was named after, is also being courted as a pitch horse for other brands and to make other appearances, Vuono said.
“I don't think you'll see him on David Letterman … but you may see him in a milk mustache commercial or on a Wheaties box,” he said.
But the splashy marketing blitz carries risks. For starters, Big Brown has to actually win Saturday's race for any licensing deals to go through. The undefeated 3-year-old colt has a cracked left hoof but is still the odds-on favorite to win.
“All the licensing agreements are contingent on Big Brown winning the Triple Crown,” Vuono said. Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, is still selling T-shirts, books, photographs and DVDs more than 20 years after his death.
And even Triple Crown losers have made out OK. Funny Cide, who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, got his own brand of beer, wine and ice cream after finishing third at the Belmont.