The Kentucky Derby is perhaps the most versatile gathering in American sports, with the mint julep-sipping southern elegance and beer-drinking middle class each heavily represented in a crowd that often climbs beyond 100,000.
A resale market that relies largely on corporations would seem to thrive on catering to the former demographic, but Doug Dearen — whose company, Derby Box, sells tickets and travel packages to the Kentucky Derby, which will take place at Churchill Downs in Louisville Saturday, May 7 — told TicketNews the lure and pageantry of the most popular horse race in the world makes the Derby popular with every budget.
“It’s almost three-tiered,” Dearen said. “There’s the very high end the corporations and the millionaires [that sit in] Turf Club that is going to spend five and six and seven thousand dollars a ticket. And then there’s the grandstand people — they’ll still dress up, but the tickets are three, four, five hundred dollars. And then there’s the infield for $45 a ticket. College fraternity party, throw out a blanket and bring your cooler in and just have a big time. That’s the way that kind of works.
“And the secondary market, because [the Derby is] pretty much quote unquote sold out, there’s all levels of resale.”
As of this afternoon, Friday, May 6, StubHub.com had 296 tickets to the Derby, ranging from a handful of general admission offerings beginning at $52 to a $2,500 ticket to the Millionaires Row and a $2,942 ticket to Upper Clubhouse 317 at Churchill Downs.
Dearen said his business is split between return customers and those who are satisfied seeing the Derby just once. “For a big sector out there, it’s kind of a bucket list thing — they want to do it once, they’ve always had this dream, they’ve always wanted to do it and they do it and they’re done, they don’t come back,” Dearen said.
Outside of a one-year hiccup in 2009, the struggling economy and high gas prices haven’t impacted Dearen’s Derby business. He told Business First of Louisville that Derby revenue is up 25 percent from last year (when a crowd of 155,804 turned out) and that the 2010 figures were up slightly from 2009.
“It’s real encouraging,” Dearen said. “It was almost kind of like a frenzy scare kind of thing [in 2009] where everybody was afraid to spend that money during that time. But now people have come back, people kind of took a year off and that’s what’s really encouraging — people who didn’t go the one year made it back the following year and now they’re kind of back. We have a lot of corporations that go every year and they took that one year off and then they rebounded.”
Ticket sales for an interest in the remainder of the Triple Crown — the Preakness Stakes will be held Saturday, May 21 in Baltimore while the Belmont Stakes is scheduled for Saturday, June 11 in New York — rely on the possibility of a horse finally winning the elusive Triple Crown. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, including just three in the last 60 years and none since Affirmed in 1978.
But, as the start of the Triple Crown, and the one horse race everyone knows about, the Derby — which will be run for the 137th straight year tomorrow — needs no such storyline to generate interest.
“It really doesn’t have to have a star,” Dearen said. “We haven’t had a real buzz for a three-year-old in a long, long time, and the Triple Crown frenzy doesn’t start up until after the Derby. So the Derby stands alone. They could have some small ponies out there running and they would still get the same crowd.”