The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands celebrates its 10th anniversary this May. The nomenclature debuted in 2006 and the partnership enters its second decade with this 142nd edition of the Run for the Roses.
Just how much of an imprint that presenting sponsorship has made could be debated — a lengthy Wall Street Journal story about increased sponsorships for U.S. racing’s signature event only mentioned the Louisville-based restaurant conglomerate once.
The Churchill-Yum partnership was announced in 2006, was extended five years in 2011 and was followed by a third five-year deal that in 2014 for the 2016-20 Derbys. Financial terms of the deals haven’t been disclosed.
The 2014 announcement did note, subtly, that some of the sponsorship proceeds boost Churchill purses.
“Our partnership … with Yum! Brands has been positive for both companies, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky’s horsemen,” track President Kevin Flanery said in the statement. “Churchill Downs is very pleased to continue to work with a great corporate citizen right here in our hometown.”
The visibility Yum gets depends on the source.
The thoroughbred trade media religiously use the moniker, the signage of Yum and its restaurants can’t be missed on Derby Day and Yum gets time on the Derby television broadcast. One account pegged the 2006 broadcast exposure as being worth almost $2.7 million to Yum. But the mainstream media uses the full name sparingly, if at all (something Derby traditionalists probably appreciate).
Yum has said the purpose is to raise the profile of the corporate brand, especially among potential investors. Again, from the 2014 release: “While millions of people know and love our leading restaurant brands, they may not know Yum! Brands,” Yum spokesman Jonathan Blum said. “The sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby allows us to build awareness of Yum!, the world’s largest restaurant company.”
The only real faux pas in the partnership occurred with the 2007 Yumfecta (or was it Yumfecta!), a $1 million bonus offered if a horse would win the Derby by more than the 6 1/2 lengths that Barbaro did in 2006 — what was the biggest Derby triumph since 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault’s 8-length romp. The bonus was to be split between the horse’s owner, trainer, jockey and a racing charity.
At the time, racing was taking a public relations beating because Barbaro broke a leg in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and was euthanized because of the hoof disease laminitis in January 2007. The idea that a horse might be pushed just to get the bonus didn’t go over well.
Street Sense won the 2007 Derby by 2 1/4 lengths. The deal was scrapped after 2007.
The Sports Business Daily recap of a 2008 story I wrote in The Courier-Journal quoted then track President Steve Sexton saying there wasn’t much reaction one way or the other to the Yumfecta — but different ways of promoting the Derby might be found.
In 2009, Mine That Bird won by 6 3/4 lengths.