The Kentucky Derby host spurs its Web site's content delivery to gallop into the winner's circle.
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Trying to keep a content-driven Web site updated with a small staff of non-IT employees can be like running the Kentucky Derby on a three-legged horse. Churchill Downs, the host of the Derby, and owner/operator of multiple racetracks in the United States, found itself faced with such a support problem. After launching its Web site in 1999, the company's online initiatives had galloped ahead with tremendous growth, expanding from one to 17 Web sites over the course of four years. The company had tried increasing staff and streamlining work delegation, but continued to find itself unable to win the race against growth and demand.
Delivering up-to-date information is crucial for any racetrack. Bettors need to know scratches, results, odds, entries, and horse information as soon as it's released. For Churchill Downs, this information needed to go live on every one of its tracks' sites. Jeremy Borseth, senior director of channel services and Internet operations for the company, says, "I had a single content rep at each track and we were training them on how to code html; we were teaching people things that are not in their expertise. The problem we were facing was a bottleneck of resources and time."
To ease the bottleneck, Churchill Downs decided to invest in a content management system. The company chose Percussion Software's Rhythmyx Web Content Management for its customization capabilities and delivery system. The implementation began in February 2005, and continued throughout that year. Percussion came on site to help with the implementation, which began with the Mobile, AL, track and spread later to comprise a network for the Web sites of all the tracks.
There were a few bumps in the road towards building out the content management systems on the new sites. "The publishing times that I needed to support these racetrack Web sites were not something that Percussion was used to doing at the time," Borseth says. At first the site had a 60-minute publishing time, but after a few tweaks, the time was lowered to a suitable five minutes. Additionally, Churchill Downs found some initial internal resistance, but Borseth says that with a new training method and a couple of "pep talks," the resistance dissipated and Churchill Downs started to see some results.
The higher information quality and speed greatly improved the site's offerings and customer traffic. In 2006 Churchill Downs became the first company in the horse racing industry to offer podcasts. Page views increased 40 percent in the week preceding the Kentucky Derby in 2006 over 2005. Vernon Imrich, CTO for Percussion, says that it was important to use the Web to expand beyond the big race, as well. "They wanted to reach all those people often so it's not just a once a year thing for the Derby." The software led to a 38 percent increase in registered members. Rhythmyx has created a domino effect of success, according to Borseth, by getting more traffic for the Web site and encouraging customers to register for the database, which gives the company better information on its customers so that it can produce better campaigns.
Churchill Downs is now looking forward to implementing the new version Rhythmyx 6.0, which was released in September 2006. The company will expand beyond podcasts to include blogging and social networking, according to Borseth, who also says that one of the greatest improvements with Rhythmyx has been in the level of creativity available. "Just coming up with an idea of how we want to launch new content is as easy as a couple of clicks of a mouse."
Through the use of the Rhythmyx WCM solution, Churchill Downs has:
increased page views on its Web site by 40 percent;
acquired 38 percent more registered members in its database; and
offered the first podcasts in the global horse racing industry.
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