Kentucky Derby Event Production

Van Wagner Shines At Its 7th Kentucky Derby

The leading live event production company was back in the saddle
to create an unforgettable fan experience at the crown jewel of horse racing.

Van Wagner Productions Back in the Saddle at the 147th Kentucky Derby

NEW YORK (May 17, 2021) – Van Wagner Productions, the industry leader in live sports event presentation for nearly 40 years, added another chapter to its impressive resumé with its 7th in-venue production of the Run for the Roses at the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Returning to its traditional calendar slot of the first Saturday in May after COVID forced the previous edition to be held in September 2020 without an audience, Churchill Downs welcomed back 52,000 fans, who were treated to Van Wagner’s award-winning on-site entertainment throughout the entire week leading up to the big race.

Working alongside the staff at Churchill Downs, Van Wagner deployed an on-site team of producers, directors, content creators and engineers dedicated to creating a world-class entertainment experience for all who attended the most iconic venue in horse racing throughout the week.  Beginning with Opening Night, the traditional kickoff of the spring meet in Louisville, Van Wagner provided overall production management, scripting, show-calling, staffing, talent management, live music coordination and engineering services for five full days of racing.  Van Wagner also provided directorial and creative support for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby Draw Shows that streamed live online and broadcast through Fox Sports 2 (FS2), while also working closely with NBCSN and NBC, the broadcast partners for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, to seamlessly coordinate shared executions and timing throughout the week.

Behind the Scenes at the Kentucky Derby with Creative Director, Ryan Kehn.

In addition, Van Wagner worked with the Churchill Broadcasting Team to supplement their broadcast control room with RF cameras, CG graphics, live social media and additional replay machines to support a show separate from the already comprehensive simulcast broadcast produced daily by Churchill Downs.  Two on-site content creators were dedicated to creating content for one of the world’s largest video boards throughout the week.  Remote workflows were also implemented to lower the on-site footprint of Van Wagner staff where possible as an added safety precaution in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

“The excitement, tradition and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby holds a special place in the world of sports,” said Kelly Reed, Executive Producer for Van Wagner who oversees the on-site operations for their team.  “It’s truly a unique experience not just for those who participate or attend as fans, but also for us as sports event producers.

Kelly Reed, Executive Producer for Van Wagner
Kelly Reed, Executive Producer for Van Wagner Productions

“With a full day at the races being 10+ hours long, we focus each day of Opening Week on creating compelling and entertaining content and creative presentations that engage the crowds through fun and games, highlighting traditions, capturing live moments in the stands and on the track and encourage fans to raise their level of participation with each race. It’s a creative challenge to continue to enhance of the event for all constituents, from Jockeys to sponsors to fans, and everyone in-between.”

With attendance at a fraction of the Churchill Downs capacity due to COVID restrictions, some traditional elements of Derby week were staged virtually.  Van Wagner’s industry-leading virtual and hybrid events capabilities allowed event organizers to easily adapt coverage of these events.  For instance, the annual Survivors Parade on Kentucky Oaks day, which celebrates breast cancer survivors, was converted from a live parade on the track to the “Survivors Moment,” which was a virtual ceremony featuring the honored survivors integrated with a live music performance at the venue.  The traditional Fashion Contest was converted to a virtual event and promoted via social media technology on the video board. Instead of the dressed-up fashionistas walking the pink carpet in front of live fans and celebrity judges, the event was broadcast online and also shown on the in-venue video screen.  Van Wagner also re-worked venue host presentations to respect social distancing, while still giving fans an intimate behind-the-scenes look at all the happenings at Churchill Downs from first gate to the finish line.

Van Wagner has been the turnkey sport presentation producer for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby since 2014, and has continued to deliver an exceptional experience for race-goers year in and year out.

2021 Kentucky Derby Event production by Van Wagner Productions.
The 2021 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

“Ramping up from regular racing to entertaining 150,000+ fans on a normal year is an enormous task. Van Wagner has the professional staff and vast resources to do that. In order to produce multiple levels of in-venue, simulcast and live streaming shows during Derby Week, we have a fully collaborative effort between Churchill Downs Broadcasting, Marketing and Van Wagner. This allows us to efficiently and seamlessly use all our resources. Besides being a great partner and very good at what they do, Van Wagner has a great group of people which really makes the difference,” said Keith Wetzler, Executive Producer, Churchill Downs Broadcasting.

Interested in learning more about what Van Wagner can do for your next live sports endeavor? The most talented team in sport presentation and production is ready to provide a world-class experience.  Not ready for in-person just yet or looking for hybrid solutions? Van Wagner’s award-winning production team has you covered.  Contact us at (212) 699-8400 or to get started today.

About Van Wagner:

Van Wagner Productions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Van Wagner Group LLC, is one of the preeminent sports marketing and media sales organizations in the world. It is an acknowledged innovator in property consulting and branding solutions and a global leader in naming rights, team and venue services, high-impact visible TV signage throughout the MLB, NBA, NCAA, MLS, and internationally in soccer, advertising and sponsorships sales, premium ticketing, technology design and integration, and in-venue content production. Van Wagner assists teams, organizations and properties in creating and selling advertising; sponsorships; and media that maximize revenue potential, and helps clients develop effective and powerful customized brand campaigns. Van Wagner works with more than 300 professional and college teams worldwide and has produced some of the largest sporting events in the world including: 9 Olympic games, 37 Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, College Football Playoff National Championship, the US Open, and many more.

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