05/02/2011 3:47PM

Kentucky Derby labeled ‘promotional priority’ by NBC

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For a racing industry starving for national television coverage, NBC is ready to feed the beast through its marketing and promotion of this year’s Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown series.

Versus will kick off its 14 hours of Derby coverage on Wednesday with a one-hour “Derby Classics’’ profile of 2004 winner Smarty Jones, (4 p.m. Eastern) immediately followed by a one-hour broadcast of the post position draw for Saturday’s race live from Churchill Downs. By that time, NBC will have already done plenty of cross-promotion for its Derby coverage through NBC Universal’s 20 channels and more than 40 websites.

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According to John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television Group, the Derby has been NBC’s highest rated show in terms of total viewership in the second quarter of each of the last two years. For that reason, and because NBC is now broadcasting all three Triple Crown races, NBC Universal has identified the Derby as a “promotional priority.’’

Miller pointed out that besides the Olympics, the Derby is the only sporting event that attracts more female viewers than males. Thus, NBC is doing a lot to promote the fashion, food, and style aspects of the event. NBC will also do features on Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, and Rose Napravnik, the rider of Pants On Fire.

The TODAY Show, the No.-1 rated morning news show, is featuring Derby segments each day this week, highlighting the food, fashion, celebrity and entertainment elements of the race. TODAY will on-site anchors at Churchill Downs beginning Thursday.

Saturday’s Weekend TODAY show will air live segments with anchor Jenna Wolfe featuring interviews with NBC Sports talent on Saturday and hopefully the winning connections of the race on Sunday.

NBC is also promoting its coverage of the race on Access Hollywood, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the E! network, and on CNBC, the company’s business channel.

NBC is seeking to build on the success of last year’s Derby, which averaged 16.5 million viewers, making it the most watched Derby since 1989 when 18.5 million viewers watched Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer.

NBC is broadcasting all three legs of the Triple Crown and will have 27 hours of Triple Crown coverage