Known as "the most exciting two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby draws large and diverse crowds every year. Though the race only lasts an approximate two minutes, sponsorship gives brands the opportunity to reach a broad audience, including more than 170,000 fans and wealthy patrons attending in person at Churchill Downs, along with an estimated 16 million television viewers.
To better understand the value Derby sponsorship can bring to advertisers, we analyzed data from Kantar Media’s Sport Intelligence, a service which monitors logo and signage exposure during televised sporting events, then calculates a media exposure value based on the duration and impact of the exposure amongst other factors. Using this data, we examined media exposure value for sponsors of the Kentucky Derby over the past three years.
The starting lineup. The Kentucky Derby has achieved some impressive growth in recent years. The event has grown from 27 sponsors in 2013 to 37 sponsors in 2015. Sixteen of these sponsors have spanned all three years (excluding Kentucky Derby self-promotion), and coming off the excitement of last year’s Triple Crown win, the growth is not expected to slow down for the 2016 race.
From 2013 through 2015, the top five sponsors have made up approximately 30% to 40% of overall media exposure value. Excluding ads for the Kentucky Derby itself and Churchill Downs, where the event is held, Yum! was by far the largest sponsor of the event for all three years analyzed. This is to be expected as Yum! has been the presenting sponsor of the event since 2006, giving its name more prominence when compared to the other supporting brands.
- $2.1 million Overall media exposure value of 2013 Derby
- $4.9 million Overall media exposure value in 2015
In 2014 and 2015, the top five sponsors were identical, including two relatively high-end brands: watch manufacturer Longines and distillery Woodford Reserve. Yum!, Longines and RAM ranked in the top five all three years, with RAM being the only one that showed consistent growth year-over-year.
The other two brands took a dip in 2014, which was consistent with the trend of overall media exposure value totals. In 2013, the media exposure value totalled $2.1 million. That dollar value dropped in 2014 to only $1.9 million, despite sponsors increasing from 27 to 32 year-over-year. Last year however, the media exposure value jumped back up, more than doubling to $4.9 million.
2015 Derby: And they’re off. For luxury and mass brands alike, certain sponsorship opportunities were used across the board. Billboards, starting-gate branding, verbal mentions and finish-line branding were all used by each of the top five sponsors last year. Brands received the highest media exposure value from billboards as they are most visible to the viewers at home.
Yum! employed the most tactics in 2015 as compared to the other sponsors, allowing it to reach the broadest consumer base and giving it the highest media exposure value. Its sponsorship was made up of ads, backdrops, billboards, clubhouse branding, finish-line branding, giant video board, jacket branding, paddock vest branding, red carpet step n' repeat branding, saddle towel branding, starting-gate branding, suite signage, tote board branding and verbal mentions.
Higher end brands were able to take advantage of the audience segmentation of Churchill Downs in order to target specific consumer sets with less waste. For example, while Yum! employed sources that would reach a mass audience, Longines used some media similar to that of Yum! but supplemented with branding opportunities that were more likely to only be seen by affluent consumers such as auction paddles and trophies. The luxury watch brand also had the unique opportunity to thematically tie its sponsorship back to its product by owning the rights to signage on the many clocks at Churchill Downs, including the race clock which associated the brand with accurate, split-second timing.
Woodford Reserve similarly made a play for more affluent consumers with branding at the Hermitage Gala which takes place the night before the race. In an effort to reach a broader audience, the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby also used other opportunities like jacket branding and bottle placement.
For high-end brands, the Kentucky Derby may end up being a far better fit than other sporting events like the Super Bowl which reach a huge mass audience. The affluence of the Derby’s audience base is unparalleled, with more than 56% of Americans with household income above $75,000 reporting an interest in watching or attending the event. Other high-end brands sponsoring the Kentucky Derby last year included Maserati and G.H. Mumm (champagne).