In sports, there has been every type of promotion known to man. I have seen events that were not politically correct, off the wall, and just plain crazy. But once in a blue moon, we get to take part or watch some of the most gutsy over-the-top adverting gimmicks. Racing is no exception to the rule, and during my years as a fan I thought I had seen it all.
Over the years I have seen:
- “Morticians Night at the Races” where there was free parking for your hearse, and free admission. As you walked through the turnstiles, there were coffins placed at each gate.
- Two races running at the same time. One on the turf course, and the other on the main surface.
- The super-popular ” Wiener Dog Summer Nationals.” – This was the biggest attendance day of the year, and people would begin sending entry forms a year in advance. Dachshunds would thunder home on the 20-yard course set up on the main track. The winner of the finals received a trophy with an Elvis wiener dog that said, ” King of the Wiener Dogs.”
- Ostrich races
- Turtle races
- Hole-in-one contests
- Swim suit contests
- Ladies jello wrestling
As different as these promotions were. They had the same idea of promoting racing and targeting new fans. I applaud those who take it to the limit. For the ones that offer the $1 million dollar payouts for picking the card, or hitting the hole-in-one are usually covered by purchasing an insurance policy. Notice that I used the term “usually.”
I was a young man working in parking when a wild-eyed Texan ventured to Florence, Kentucky and wanted to sponsor the signature race. Turfway had a long running contract with Jim Beam, and the sponsors decided to go another route. It was at this time when a man named Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale changed the game. He put his money where his mouth is and kicked up the purse for the Kentucky Derby prep to $750,000. But there were only a few changes. The race would be renamed the “Galleryfurniture.com Stakes,” and there would be signage plastered everywhere possible. To this day, I still see faded sweatshirts bearing the animated logo promoting the race from 1999.
When you look up the word salesman, you will see this fast-talking Texan who puts it up and backs it up. Gallery Furniture ran a promotion tied to the Super Bowl where if you purchased $6,000 dollars in furniture and the Seattle Seahawks won. You would receive a full rebate on your purchase. Here is an excerpt from Jim McIngvale during an interview with the Daily Racing Form:
“I was fully prepared to be a 100 percent winner or a 100 percent loser,” McIngvale told Daily Racing Form. “We’ve done sports promotions many times in the past, trying to get younger customers out. The younger customers out there seem to be drawn to these promotions.”
McIngvale, who did not take out insurance, said he was genuinely happy to be able to treat his customers, and said the promotion actually helped lead to the biggest two weeks in the 32-year history of Gallery Furniture. He also said it raised awareness of the store.
“It was well worth the expense, not to mention the worldwide publicity,” he said, noting that about 1,000 families received free furniture.
You will see his advertisements at Houston Astros games, billboards, and everywhere possible. It is rare to watch someone go for the gusto on the national stage, but when they swing for the fences. We are always there to watch the outcome. Hats off to “Mattress Mac” for taking it to the limit. For a man who invested his last $10,000 in a television commercial, and fired off a fast-paced sales pitch due to the short time available. The sky is the limit, and there is no telling where he may pop-up next. Thoroughbred racing could use more “Mattress Mac” tactics to bring the game back into the spotlight.