social media case studiesIn Southern California, the Del Mar Racetrack is the place to see and be seen. And now it’s the place to check into, tweet about and post via Facebook.

This Southern California institution, in business for 71 years, draws thousands every summer for horse racing, its cool bars and restaurants and a busy slate of concerts and festivals.

But like many entertainment industry venues, Del Mar attendance has dipped in recent years due to the ailing economy. But in 2010, the track added a new star to its marketing lineup – social media.

With virtually no other marketing changes, social media boosted attendance this past season by 4.2 percent.

“That’s an increase of 27,000 bodies,” said Craig Dado, senior vice president of marketing at Del Mar Racetrack. “In this economy, I’ve got to be honest, it was a little bit surprising.”

race one

Del Mar Racetrack is the place to be in Southern California summers.

Organization: Del Mar RacetrackSocial Media Handles & Stats:


  • 24,000 hits from Facebook to the Del Mar Racetrack website
  • 965 tickets redeemed from Facebook giveaways
  • 10,900 new social media users in the 2010 season
  • 1.8 million impressions via social media
  • Year-over-year attendance increase of 27,000 people – or 4.2 percent

And They’re Off!

Del Mar isn’t your traditional racetrack. There, you’re just as likely to see reggae bands and wiener dog races as thoroughbreds and ladies in hats. The track packs in dozens of events during just a seven-week summer season each year.

Due to strong branding efforts, Del Mar has increasingly become more of “the scene,” even appearing on HBO’s “Entourage” and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” as well as other TV shows and major motion pictures.

Del Mar has long run frequent TV ads to alert the local community about upcoming events. When social media began emerging, the track slowly stuck a toe in to test the waters, but did so without a specific strategy initially.

“We launched a Facebook page right before the beginning of the season in 2009 to gage the public’s interest in connecting with the track via social media,” said Callan Green of Bailey Gardiner, Del Mar’s marketing partner. “The success we saw without a comprehensive strategy encouraged us. With more thought, purpose and planning, we believed we could increase traffic and meet our goals.”

With that, the track reallocated budget from traditional media to social media, but with a clear objective.


Fans enjoying “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” at the Del Mar Racetrack in Southern California.

“We needed to convert communication into track attendance,” Dado said. “At the end of the day, we really challenged my team not to just brag about how cool it is, but measure and track, reinforce the brand and then convert into bodies at the track.”

“Astronomical” Twitter Activity

Before the season began, Del Mar started promoting its social media pages on TV ads. As the season opened, the visual nature of both the track and social media provided a winning combination. In fact, the first photo posted on Facebook of famed horse Zenyatta drew more than 100 comments from both horseracing and entertainment fans.


Shots of champion thoroughbred Zenyatta drew more than 100 comments and 391 “Likes.”

Encouraged, the marketing team shared photos and videos daily of fans, celebrities, horses, jockeys and events.

But several strategic promotions unlocked the gate on the racetrack’s social media expansion. Early in the season, Del Mar hosted a “Cool As Ever” (its slogan) Tech event that drew 725 social media influencers to the track for tours and giveaways. Of course, social media influencers talk – a lot.

cool as ever tech event

The second-annual Cool as Ever Tech event brought together SoCal’s web/tech scene for an interactive event.

“The amount of Twitter activity that day was astronomical,” Green said. “We were successful in driving top social media influencers to the track, while also creating a buzz online.”

Del Mar also recruited Facebook fans in the search for a select fan to appear in a “Cool As Ever” commercial. Fans submitted photos and an explanation of why they, in fact, were “Cool As Ever,” which got the Del Mar Facebook community talking. The winner, a woman, enjoyed a cameo appearance in a commercial featuring karaoke at Del Mar.

One lucky fan won a Facebook contest for a cameo in a track commercial.

The track added Foursquare to the mix as well, giving the mayor special treatment that included a tour of the winner’s circle, a table and four free tickets to the track. Plus, anyone who checked in more than three times earned tickets for being loyal fans.

In seven weeks, that led to 3,863 check-ins from 2,500 people, which is more than other major area attractions including the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and Sea World.


A tab on Facebook honors the track’s mayors, giving extra exposure to the Foursquare tie-in.

Finally, to cap the season, Del Mar dubbed the last race day “Fan Appreciation Day,” which also served to increase attendance during a historically less-attended time when school has started again. Any Facebook fan could follow a link to claim two free Clubhouse tickets. That drew 905 people, who in turn spent money on food and beverages at the track.

Twitter: Engagement Goes Both Ways

Beyond events, Del Mar monitors Twitter mentions closely for measurement and opportunities to engage. The Del Mar marketing team answers questions quickly and follows folks, encouraging them to follow back. In total, the track engaged directly with fans more than 3,000 times and falls in the 80th percentile in Twitter influence measurement.

“It’s a customer service element to reach out to people who didn’t know we were there,” Green said. “And we made an effort to respond to anyone who talked to us.”

The track even monitors for posts about people traveling to San Diego and sends information about upcoming events.

delmar twitter

The marketing team closely monitors tweets and responds to all @ posts.

10,900 New Friends

When the season officially closed and marketing ran the numbers, Dado had the return on investment he wanted. Del Mar made 10,900 new friends on social media channels for the season, helping drive the 4.2 percent increase in attendance. It was clear social media wasn’t just chatter.

“There were hundreds of responses for everything we put up. That moment I was like, ‘Wow, this is working. They’re not only friends or likers, but they really want to tell us how we’re doing,’” Dado said. “It was overwhelmingly positive that Del Mar looked like the place to be this summer.”

How to Stay ‘On Track’ With Social Media

Know who you are – Have a strong brand message FIRST and then reinforce it through social media. Del Mar spent years refining its brand and then communicated those messages consistently and clearly in social media.

Measure – Establish specific objectives and a pathway to get there. Then measure every element necessary to know if you’ve accomplished your goals. Del Mar’s goal: bodies at the track.

Stay regular – Post interesting content – often. That keeps fans and followers aware and engaged.

Give things away – Del Mar gave away thousands of free tickets during the 2010 season, helping earn new loyal fans who tell their friends and return.

How can you apply Del Mar ideas to win in your own social media race? How do you reinforce your brand in social channels? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  • I love that they honor their mayors on FB! This is one of those stories that really makes me smile, since they really embraced social media and even took it to whole other levels.

    A basic theme in this whole article was about giving back. Whether that be through replying to messages, honoring mayors or giving away tickets; it’s about appreciating those who appreciate you.

    Love this article!

  • its a shame Facebook TOS frowns upon ‘like’, ‘share’ or ‘tag’ contests for fan photos, comments, etc. these are the most viral buttons in FB, yet they want fanpages to limit their contests on specialized contest tabs.. @.@

  • Jay Baer would be proud of you, Del Mar. You took social media to bat, tested a pitch or two, then hit one out of the park. I love the coverage of traditional businesses that find a way to fold social media into their daily bread, and the patient, positive results from clear objectives is encouraging to me, as a member of the social media revolution.

  • Just shows you the power of social media at it’s very finest doesnt it!

    I will certainly try to write much better content and whilst I cannot give away any free tickets I am sure I could rustle up a free ebook or two lol.


  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks for your comments. It was a fun story to capture. They smartly realize the business impact of getting people there, even with free tickets.

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks David. Yes this one stands out for their very clear measurement and tie-back to the bottom line, which isn’t always the case.

  • Thank you very much! So glad you liked the strategy and the integration. And thanks, Casey, for putting it together so nicely!

  • Thank you, David. Jay is a good friend of the agency’s and we would certainly like to think we make him proud! Thanks for the kind words.

  • Marisa Vallbona

    What a fantastic testament to the power of social media. When I hear people say they think social media is just hype, I’m going to point to this example. It’s the best one I’ve seen yet!

  • Thanks so much, Marisa. Absolutely love hearing that!

  • Hey Casey,

    Awesome Post and what an awesome title.
    One of the best post I’ve ever seen on social media.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post casey.


  • PhilMershon

    Nice job, Casey. I lived in San Diego for 2.5 years, working in Carmel Valley, and drove by the race tracks many times. Never knew this was going on in my neighborhood.

    It’s nice to see the way social proof and customer engagement can lead to “butts in the seat”. Wonder if Casey or Callan can speak to the ROI on these efforts? How much staff time and resources went into the social efforts to get these extra 27,000 fans?

  • Pingback: Del Mar Racetrack Uses Social Media to Draw In Racing Audience : Online Social Media()

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks Dev! I appreciate it.

  • As impressed as I am with the social media ROI here, I think it’s very important to note that they still advertised their social media links on TV. These “likes” did not all happen organically just by starting a Facebook page. As a social media strategist for small to medium businesses, I’m almost always asked if I can get 20,000 or 100,000 fans without using other marketing tools, especially advertising. This proves the important point that social media is a part (albeit major) of a larger marketing strategy, even if the budget comes from re-allocated existing advertising dollars. Kudos to the team–it was a GREAT campaign and very creative.

  • Hi Lisa,

    I one hundred percent agree with you. Social media is always much more effective when it is being integrated into traditional advertising, online advertising and PR efforts. That is one of the benefits to hiring an integrated agency because we are able to look at a companies social media campaign from outside the “social media box.” Thanks for your comment!

  • Hi Phil,

    The social media was run by a team of people and was certainly a time intensive program. However, we didn’t evaluate its success with an ROI number where we could equate a dollar value to a “like” or a “follow.” We are lucky enough to work with a smart team over at Del Mar, who understands that social media is more than a fad or even marketing. They know it is a necessary tool for customer service, brand awareness and relationship building.

    That being said, we wanted to make sure the time dedicated to social media was as efficient and as cost effective as possible. Much of our overall strategy and tactics were chosen in order to meet this exact goal.

    Thanks for yout comment! -Callan.

  • Agreed! Such a great post. Thanks so much, Casey, for choosing to feature Del Mar!

  • It is great that they are seeing success and really embracing social media. What I also see as a contributor to their success is that they were already well established with diverse people visiting who were most likely already on social media. They had an opportunity to put a rod into a lightening storm.

  • Great point, Lisa. I was about to post the same idea about how TV started the ball rolling for them, before I saw your comment. Small business cannot always afford the same channel investments–so small business may need to be a bit more creative (or prepared to work harder) to get the social media bang they’re striving for.

  • Very nicely done! I love the strategy. Social Media works but you need to have a plan and know what you want out of it. I like how you say the target was to get more visitors, many people have no clue on how or why they are using social media. To conclude all I can say is thank you, thank you for a great post and a great sample on how social media done right can be very successful.

  • Pingback: How Social Media Drew 27,000 More People to the Races « Big Engine Media()

  • horse_racing

    a 100% great post:)

    im sure that many of people now admire you for your great works and effort on sharing something of your ideas to others.

    thanks for the great and wondeful post…

  • horse143

    that girl is so lucky to be chosen as the winner 🙂 nice job! 🙂 i bet that event was super fun and they attracted many people as well through some strategy. nice one!

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  • The Social media agency

    That’s a great post, Social Media is definetly an effective medium to reach to the target audience.