Charlotte's QuintEvents is growing with the Kentucky Derby

By Charlotte Business Journal, Erik Spanberg | April 15, 2016

The Kentucky Derby is getting bigger for Charlotte corporate entertainment company QuintEvents.

This year’s Derby — the 142nd running takes place May 7 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. — includes yet another round of expanded luxury seating at the historic race track. That, in turn, helped QuintEvents increase its inventory of VIP packages to as many as 4,000 guests while also signing a multi-year contract with Churchill Downs in January.

Known as Derby Experiences, the QuintEvents packages combine tickets to the race, access to premium seating, all-inclusive food and drink, behind-the-scenes tours and receptions with well-known jockeys and other sports celebrities. This year, that includes jockeys Pat Day, who has ridden winners in nine Triple Crown events, and Jacinto Vasquez, who has two Derby wins on his résumé. Tying in another QuintEvents client, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, retired NFL players and hall inductees Thurman Thomas, Shannon Sharpe and Warren Moon will also mingle with guests who are attending as part of Derby Experiences.

Brian Learst, QuintEvents CEO, told me his company had room for 1,500 guests when it began selling Derby Experiences in 2007. Since then, incremental growth kept increasing their capacity, a combination of sales success and ongoing investments by Churchill Downs to add more seating and entertainment options.

The track, part of a publicly held company, said in September 2015 that it had spent $69 million over the last six years on improvements. Additions for the 2016 Derby cost $18 million and include a capacity increase of 41% in the clubhouse, to 2,660. Overall, there are 58,654 reserved seats at the track. General admission areas pushed attendance to a record 170,000 last year. During a recent conference call, Bill Carstanjen, CEO of parent company Churchill Downs Inc. (NASDAQ:CHDN), said attendance and betting hit record levels in 2015.

“We had mid-tier seating before and this (new premium seating) is rounding out inventory well for us,” Learst told me. “And the fact that we were able to structure a long-term deal means we can sell to clients several years out.”

Until this year, Churchill Downs and QuintEvents worked on one-year contracts.

The Derby is the Charlotte company’s largest VIP program. QuintEvents arranges transportation, hotels, tickets and extras such as meet-and-greets for other events, including the College Football Playoff, UFC, Formula One auto races and the PGA Tour’s Players Championship.

With the additions, there are now 30 packages available for the Derby through QuintEvents, including a mix of perks and extras. In most cases, Learst said, clients spend $3,000 to $6,000 per guest. That includes everything except air fare: hotels, ground transportation, tickets, food and drinks.

QuintEvents is privately held and declines to disclose financial results. Revenue increased by 80% in 2015 and the company is profitable, Learst said.

Asked why companies and others are more interested in such sports travel packages, the QuintEvents CEO attributed the gains to access — and hassle-free entertainment.

“We’ve all heard those horror stories,” he said, referring to fraudulent tickets sometimes sold on the secondary market. “With us, you’re buying directly from the organizing body (of the event). And it’s a big deal for a customer to be able to put large groups of people together and entertain guests.”