Q&A: Andrew Collins, President & CEO of Sentient Jet

By T. D. Thornton

Sentient Jet is entering its seventh year of sponsorship with the Breeders’ Cup as the exclusive private aviation partner of the World Thoroughbred Championships. In addition to being the title sponsor of the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Sentient will also host a charter flight from San Diego to Lexington immediately following this year’s event, allowing owners, breeders and trainers to dovetail the championships with a timely arrival in Kentucky for the annual November sales.

Sentient is also the preferred private aviation partner of the GI Kentucky Derby, GI Kentucky Oaks, and Churchill Downs. It has recently formed a partnership with Fasig-Tipton Company, Inc., and has individually sponsored 2016 Derby winner Nyquist (Uncle Mo) and 2017 Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee (Lookin At Lucky).

TDN caught up with Andrew Collins, the president and chief executive of Sentient, via phone Oct. 12 to discuss what these alliances mean, both for the private jet firm and the Thoroughbred industry. An edited transcript follows:

TDN: Let’s roll it back seven years. Please tell me about Sentient’s initial reasons for wanting to get involved with the Thoroughbred industry and discuss how the partnerships have evolved.

AC: It was really a smart decision for a lot of reasons. Our client base–we have 6,000 “jet card” holders–has access to a lot of things, obviously, They’re either corporate executives or they’re ultra-high net-worth individuals. And what we’ve tried to do is propitiously align their interests in terms of their lifestyle with the types of partners or the types of offerings that we do. So horse racing is really a perfect overlap. A lot of our clients are horse owners or farm owners, and we have met and brought in a great deal of clients by being part of the horse racing community. You can clearly see that we have multiple partners within the racing space, and I expect that to continue and even expand.

TDN: What is it about horse racing’s demographic that is interesting and/or desirable for your firm?

AC: First of all, you have to be [financially] qualified to fly privately. It’s rather expensive. But you have owners that have to move around from race to race, and you also have many people that own farms in places like Kentucky who may not actually reside in Kentucky. So the ability to get in and out of different locations with ease and a peace of mind, that’s one of the drivers. Private aviation lets you get into 5,000 smaller airports versus just the 500 commercial hubs in the United States. So we can basically allow people to manipulate time. We all run off of the same watch, but our customers can manipulate time in an interesting fashion by using private aviation as a tool.

And then as company, outside of the demographic, per se, there’s also the element of an association with a world-class brand. The Breeders’ Cup, the Kentucky Derby–these are tried-and-true brands, world class. So having the ability to associate our brands with them is an obvious positive for us.

TDN: Sponsoring events like the Breeders’ Cup and Derby is one thing, but individual horse partnerships are rather new. How did that come about and what do you get out of it?

AC: In order to have a Derby horse sponsorship, you also have to be an official partner of the Derby itself. We get some wonderful exposure for our brand. For Nyquist, our brand was actually on air for well over a minute or more in aggregate in a broadcast that millions and millions of people saw. Many of our clients actually asked for the Sentient hats that Nyquist’s team was wearing in the Derby winner’s circle.

An added benefit that I hadn’t really thought of beforehand was that our entire employee base ends up cheering for the horse as if they own him themselves. As Nyquist made it into the winner’s circle and Lookin At Lee almost won, my texts exploded on my phone as it happened.

So it’s an unconventional strategy for sure, but I think the exposure, and then the natural extension of horse racing as a marketing platform for us, is a relationship-driver. It has seemed like a smart thing to do. We’ve done it two years in a row, and I think we’ll continue to do it.

TDN: I would imagine that racing’s trend toward globalization is viewed as a natural alignment for a private aviation provider.

AC: Agreed. Ninety percent of our business is domestic, but we are expanding over into Europe, as are some sister companies that we’re related to. So I think that the growth of the sport overseas bodes well for us. The success that we’ve had here with the racing community, I can imagine we’ll parlay that well beyond the borders of the United States.

TDN: Sentient is also aligned with entities in different sports–several National Basketball Association teams and World Cup skiing at Aspen among them. How do those partnerships contrast or compare with your horse racing sponsorships?

AC: Each partnership we do has its own unique nature to it. The NBA is interesting because many of the team ownership groups now come out of financial services, private equity, and things like that. Those people are used to flying privately, so there’s a natural alignment. Many people think we do [sports sponsorships] because of the athletes and exposure, and to some extent that’s true. But in reality, the people that are purchasing the jet cards from us will be from team ownership or will be a stakeholders or someone of that nature.

I would also tell you that beyond the NBA, beyond horse racing, beyond skiing, we see a lot of flying in and out of things like professional golf tournaments. There are also pop-up sporting events, like the Mayweather-Pacquiao championship fight on the same night that the Derby was run two years ago–there were hundreds of private jets that flew into Las Vegas that night. Sporting can drive a lot of flying, whether that’s at an ownership level or at a fan level, should they have access.

TDN: Discuss the decision to offer private jet service to Kentucky after this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

AC: We’re actually offering a private shuttle from San Diego to Lexington right after the [Saturday] races so that people can attend the Breeders’ Cup and be rested and ready for the sales in Lexington. So it’s really about a client or a person that needs that flexibility and time manipulation.

To purchase a booking, interested people would need to go through the Breeders’ Cup for that–they’re the ones that are actually managing it, while we are the supplier for it in this relationship. They can find it on the Breeders’ Cup website; there were also invitations sent out to people who the Breeders’ Cup thought might have an interest.

TDN: Sentient pioneered the “jet card” concept. Please explain it.

AC: The jet card actually allows you to feel like a jet owner without actually owning that asset. The jet cards start at about $130,000. You can then fly 25 hours off of each card that you purchase. You just need to give us about 10 hours advance notice, and we work with you to understand how many passengers, what’s the purpose of your trip, and we customize the jet selection and we help you choose the best routing and airport destination. In addition to that, we offer some really interesting and exclusive card member benefits and access [at] the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup. It’s very flexible and easy to use. As I’ve mentioned, we all run off of the same clock, but private aviation really allows you to manipulate that time.

TDN: Your metaphors about manipulating time make me think that Albert Einstein would have been very interested in that concept.

AC: [Laughs] I will underscore that by telling you that I live and work outside of Boston, but we’re owned by a group out of Cleveland. And I have to fly commercially out of Logan {International Airport] to Cleveland a bunch. Only every once in a while do I get to fly privately. And the difference is that if I have to fly out for a lunch meeting, it is an all-day affair commercially, and it also wipes me out for the next day. But if I get the chance to fly privately, I literally leave out of [a smaller, closer airport] at 10:30 in the morning, have my meeting, then be back in time to pick my kids up from school. The difference is amazing. @thorntontd

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