Yum! Brands may be ending its long-running sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs according to rumors.
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.