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2017 Kentucky Derby: Hats Off to Sponsors

May 4th, 2017   ||    by Melanie Brown

Known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is somewhat unique among annual televised sporting events. The Derby has a culture all its own: Attendees and television viewers alike take the Derby as an opportunity to don seersucker jackets, big sun hats, and drink mint juleps at parties, in bars, and at Churchill Downs in anticipation of the action.

Over the years, the Derby crowd has diversified, hailing from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and opening up the event to advertisers as a hot-ticket sponsorship opportunity. In 2016, the Derby drew in more than 15 million television viewers, in addition to the crowd of nearly 170 thousand attendees at Churchill Downs.

Food Takes the Top Spot

Yum! Brands has been the event’s presenting sponsor since 2006 and, according to Kantar Media, has consistently seen the highest ROI during the past few years of sponsorship. In 2014, the mass-market restaurant company brought in nearly $230 thousand in media exposure value. That number was triple the ROI of the second-largest sponsor that year, Woodford Reserve Distillery.

In 2015, Yum! Brands—the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut—employed even more sponsorship tactics by placing signage on the finish line, backdrops, jackets, and starting gates, in addition to its other advertising and verbal mentions. These efforts garnered more than $700 thousand in media exposure value, and the company extended its presenting sponsorship agreement to 2020.

From Watches to Private Jets

The 2016 Derby saw an increase in the number of sponsoring consumer brands. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Derby’s broader range of advertisers in recent years has significantly increased total sponsorship revenue, and created opportunities to draw in new fans to the event. In addition to mainstay sponsors like Yum! Brands, companies like Longines, Woodford Reserve Distillery, Stella Artois, Bacardi, and Vineyard Vines got into the mix, capitalizing on the Derby’s culture of booze and fashion to market to everyone from wealthy patrons of the event to millennial party attendees. The audience the Derby draws might not be as big as those of the Super Bowl or World Series, but the event’s viewership is consistent year after year and historically brings in an affluent audience of all ages.

The 2017 Kentucky Derby looks to see more of the same from high-end consumer brands. Yum! Brands will reprise its role as presenting sponsor, and watchmaker Longines will continue to stamp its name on timekeeping for the event. Luxury brands like Maserati and private air-travel company Sentient Jet will sit alongside midrange brands to appeal to a younger crowd.

The bottom line? The Derby is more than just a two-minute-long race. It’s an experience that audiences can involve themselves in, and as its popularity grows, the opportunity it offers advertisers to reach affluent demographics will continue to widen as well. It’s clear that other brands could learn from the Derby sponsors’ success at the tracks.

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