Yum! Brands May Be Ending Kentucky Derby Sponsorship

by | 10.06.2017 | 12:00pm

Yum! Brands may be ending its long-running sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, sources have told the Paulick Report.

Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., also home of Churchill Downs, the publicly traded fast-food company (NYSE: YUM) became the first presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby with a five-year deal signed in 2006 with then CEO Thomas Meeker. It has renewed the sponsorship twice, most recently in 2014 with an extension that was to run through 2020. Sources said the company has asked to terminate the sponsorship prematurely, as early as the 2018 Derby, and Churchill Downs officials are said to be seeking a possible replacement from among its dozens of official sponsors and partners of Kentucky Oaks and Derby day races and events. No specific reason was cited and neither Churchill Downs nor Yum! officials respond to phone or email messages.

For its sponsorship, Yum!, owner of more than 44,000 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants in 135 countries, receives on-site signage with its distinctive company logo appearing in numerous places, including television billboards and other media, starting gate, outrider jackets and saddle towels of the Derby runners. Yum! also receives a specified number of television commercials during the Derby day and weekend horse racing telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports.

More than 260,000 attended the 2017 Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, while a television audience of more than 15 million watched the Derby on NBC.

The sponsorship did not affect the purse of the Kentucky Derby, which has been $2 million guaranteed since 2005.

Spun off from PepsiCo in 1997, Yum! used the Kentucky Derby presenting sponsorship to increase awareness of the company brand in the investment community, in addition to promoting its fast-food restaurant chains. The company also signed a 10-year, $13.5-million deal in 2010 for the naming rights to the downtown Louisville sports and entertainment arena known as the KFC Yum! Center. In 2016, five of Yum!'s top executives, including Greg Creed who became the company CEO on Jan. 1, 2015, moved from Louisville to Plano, Texas, while denying rumors the company was planning to relocate its headquarters.

Among the numerous official sponsors and partners of Kentucky Derby weekend is another publicly traded Louisville company, the wine and spirits conglomerate Brown-Forman, which currently sponsors the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic with its Kentucky bourbon brand. Brown-Forman does over $3 billion in annual revenue from its 19 brands of wines and spirits.

Corporate communications officials with Yum! Brands and Churchill Downs, along with Kristin Warfield, the Churchill Downs senior director of partnerships for Churchill Downs racetrack, did not respond to telephone and email messages from the Paulick Report seeking comment.

  • Richard C

    As major sports sponsorship deals go….perhaps the pair that remain the gold standard are the Virginia Slims Circuit and Winston Cup Series.

    • St Owen Racing

      And the Marlboro Cup, which included winners like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Spectaculr Bid.

      • Larry Ensor

        This is the only “sponsorship name” of any race that I can think up that became an important race. It was one of the great races of Belmont fall racing. I would bet if one were to go over the charts they would be hard pressed to see a lack luster field.

        First run in 73 and it started off with a bang with he Meadow Stables 2 Derby winners entered, Secretariat and Rive Ridge. Secretariat won by over 3 lengths. Then in 78 only the second time 2 Triple Crown winners ran against each other. Seattle Slew beat Affirmed by 3 lengths.

        I will always remember Slew of Gold in the paddock of the 84 running which he won. If ever a horse “looked” the winner in the paddock it was him. He was a big beautiful horse, one his toes, head bowed his coat gleaming in the fall afternoon light. Stunning.

        Sadly a lot of “important” fall races that always had stud-studded cast get in the gate for many years. That’s not the case anymore since the Breeders’ Cup gained more and more importance.

        IMO the Marlboro Cup “worked” because the name “fit”, sounded good. “Yum” never worked in any shape or format. At least we didn’t have to deal with “The Yum Derby”.

    • louisville race fan

      pga rolex

      • Larry Ensor

        Rolex also had been the sponsor of US Eventing’s only 4 Star. (like a Grade 1 in racing). Held at the KY Horse Park. Rolex has sponsorship started when it became a 4 star in 98. Though the official name is Rolex Kentucky Three Day. To the Eventing world it is simply called “Rolex”. IMO a name that “works” because it sounds good, fits.

        After 20 years of sponsorship and the name becoming synonymous with the event Rolex is ending its sponsorship I have a feeling the organizers are going to have a hard time replacing the “name”. Regardless who replaces Rolex I have a feeling it is going to take a long time “rebrand” it. I bet people are going to keep calling it, referring to it as “Rolex.

        • louisville race fan

          correct i still call turfways signature race the jim bean

          • Larry Ensor

            Yup, me too. The Jim Beam is also a good name for a race, sounds good.

      • longshot

        Rolex would be a great sponsor. It would give the them some class(which CD doesn’t have much of), better than greasy fried chicken and what ever else Yum tries to pass off as food

    • Kathryn R Wilt

      Not to forget the Camel Crown Fight series.The cigarette industry got out of sports sponsorship a while back because of some negative publicity. The beer folks took over much of it.

  • David Worley

    I would think that one of the major bourbon players would relish the opportunity to sponsor. It’s the right audience, right event, and coherent (mental) connection for them. I have no idea how the economics works out, but it’s not hard to envision, the “Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve.” Also, for the right distillery who is a mid-major looking to go international, this could be a big opportunity. An example being Four Roses or Buffalo Trace.

    • Quinnbt

      “BUD” Derby!

      • David Worley

        Say it ain’t so!

    • Erin Casseday

      I am voting for Blanton’s (Buffalo Trace). They already have the coolest bottle tops! Have one on my shelf.

  • Ida Lee

    The only reason I know the YUM Brand is because of the KY Derby …

  • Tango F

    Thank God … the two never seemed to go together; fast food and racing expensive hobby horses

    • St Owen Racing

      Tell that to Mike Pegram.

  • NMBird

    Maybe a better name, like the “Jason’s Deli Kentucky Derby” or “Subway Kentucky Derby”…ugh to all of it!

    If it becomes the Walmart Kentucky Derby, that will be it for me!

  • Jack Frazier

    Good. I have never referred to the Derby as the Yum Brands KY Derby and I don’t buy their products.

  • Bob C

    I don’t know if Brown-Forman sponsoring the Kentucky Derby is a good idea. The bible thumpers who are opposed to gambling would really get riled if a whiskey distillery attached their name to a gambling venue. Let’s not give them anymore ammunition. Why not UPS or Papa Johns—aren’t they both headquartered in Louisville?

    • Kyle Stasierowski

      I believe that Papa John’s is because

      the stadium that the

      Louisville Cardinals football team

      plays in is called

      Papa John’s Cardinals Stadium.


      • LongTimeEconomist

        Papa John’s was founded in the Louisville area and their corporate headquarters is in Louisville today.

        • Kyle Stasierowski

          Thanks I appreciate the info.

    • Beau Geste

      I find it amazing that anyone in 2017 can actually believe that the “Bible thumpers” are the ones to fear.

      • Bob C

        Who are the ones that want “Instant Racing” machines made illegal? Who are the ones that howl every time expanded gaming is mentioned? With enough pressure the bible thumpers in a “Red State” like Kentucky could make horse racing disappear completely. It would be huge mistake to underestimate their clout

      • Bob C

        Before InBev acquired brewing giant Anheuser Busch, the previous management team at A/B cowered from pressure from the religious right. Many of them actually feared a return to the days of Prohibition if they did otherwise.

        • Beau Geste

          That merger took place ten years ago. Many of the social changes that have taken place in the past decade prove how much clout has been lost by the religious in our country.

  • Quilla

    That’s a shame. I had finally gotten used to reading “The Kentucky Derby Presented By YUM! Brands, Grade 1” every time the Derby was referenced…NOT!

  • cincybulljags

    Just a “small” correction, when they first spun off from PepsiCo, the company was called Tricon for a couple of years before changing to Yum Brands.

  • Annie Mae

    I understand wanting the money but I hate sponsor names attached to races.

  • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

    I never bought a Pizza from Pizza Hut because of this
    This sponsorship came to be because Churchill Downs are greedy pigs
    That’s why there’s 20 horses in the derby, it’s never been about horse racing or creating conditions for the best horse to win!!! It’s all about the Benjamins and maximizing the bottom line

    If you want to see passion, a great crowd, and a good time go to Keeneland, it want to see stuffed shirts trying to have a good go to Churchill Downs, my OLD (emphasis on Old) Kentucky Home!

  • Tinky

    As I mentioned when the sponsorship was first announced: Yum! Brands? Yuck!

  • Rachel

    Thank-you Yum Brands for your generous sponsorship over the years. Obviously there was someone there who loved horse racing as much as us for you to even consider sponsoring the KD.

  • Brian Taylor

    Have they ever so much as showed a picture of a horse at one of their “restaurants”?No promotion whatsoever.

    • Beau Geste

      A picture of a horse might not be the best image at a fast food restaurant. I’ve always had my doubts about those burgers.

      • slvrblltday

        The burgers at Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut? Ok

  • Cuffdaddy

    Always thought he word “Yum” in tandem with horseracing was a not a positive look.

    • Todays_Tom_Sawyer

      Agree…not a great combination. And the promotion seemed to be one-sided (with the Yum brand plastered everywhere), and there was nothing in return promoting the Kentucky Derby. Might be justifiable given the poor match in brands (horse racing, Yum). I think this could work out best in the long run for the Kentucky Derby to get a sponsor whose brand and image fits better.

  • longshot

    Maybe they will get Popeyes. I like their chicken better

  • Minneola

    Wish that the reasoning, for dropping out of sponsoring this race, will eventually come out. Could be very interesting.

    • longshot

      Yum is probably like anyother business. Trying to cut cost

      • Minneola

        Well run businesses do not cut costs by reducing promotional efforts unless they intend to go out of business. There is another reason and the only thing that I could speculate is that they did not see that there was enough return on their investment dollars (in promotions) to continue this effort with the Kentucky Derby. I do believe that it was an ill-connected effort. Fast food and the premier U.S. racing event are in two different realms. Fast food and baseball, perhaps, go together, especially since baseball is more mainstream and widely followed. Horse racing? Not as much.

  • Jane Atkinson

    Larry: Rolex Watch USA became Title Sponsor of the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 1981. The competition was a Three-Star at that time. Became only the third Four-Star in the world in 1998, following the two English bastions of the sport, Badminton and Burghley.

    • Larry Ensor

      I understand that. Didn’t think it was necessary to go into the complete history. Most people on this forum probably have no idea what Eventing is all about anyway nor care. It really wasn’t my point.

  • kuzdzal

    Take a moment to guess why this might be under consideration.

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