- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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The owners of California Chrome signed their first major sponsorship deal for the horse ahead of his attempt to be the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.
Shoe brand Skechers will be featured on everything from the apparel of the horse's handlers to the horse's blanket, or fly sheet, to the barn leading up to the Belmont Stakes on June 7. The deal also requires team members to wear Skechers branding in the winner's circle should the horse win and allows Skechers to use California Chrome in marketing materials for a month after the race. Terms were not disclosed, but a source with knowledge of the deal said it's the largest deal in horse racing since UPS paid IAEH Stables to advertise on Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown in 2008.
"We're a marketing company that just happens to be in the footwear business," said Robert Greenberg, the chief executive for Skechers, which headquartered in California. "We're spending a couple bucks to the roll the dice and if this horse wins it all, we'll be part of it."
The company, which projects at least $2.2 billion in sales this year, will spend about $175 million on marketing in 2014, Greenberg said.
Greenberg said while the deal is a visibility play, it's also an age play. The median age of the Triple Crown television viewer skews older, matching the 50- to 60-something consumer Skechers has increasingly targeted by using former athletes like Joe Montana. The company recently signed 73-year-old Pete Rose and Joe Namath, who turned 71 on Saturday, to market their shoes.
"Nike is religion for a lot of kids, so it's a tough market to break through," Greenberg said. "We're going after an older audience."
Older is sometimes relative. The company received a huge boost by being on the feet of Meb Keflezighi, who at age 38 won the Boston Marathon in April. Keflezighi was the first American to win the race since 1982.
In the past few weeks, the horse's owners have filed to trademark California Chrome and hired New York-based sports marketing firm Leverage Agency and Calfornia-based Meticulous Talent Management to handle the horse's marketing and sponsorship deals. Leverage CEO Ben Sturner said he expects to have at least two other deals for the horse by Saturday.
Meanwhile, jockey Victor Espinoza has been busy signing his own deals. A group called the Common Ground Alliance, which is behind a marketing campaign called Call 811, which encourages people to call before they dig, has sponsored Espinoza's pants for all three Triple Crown races. His agent Brian Beach told ESPN.com that his client has signed secondary deals with MGM Grand and national burger chain BurgerFi.