02/01/2006 1:00AM

Kentucky Derby adds sponsor to race name

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For the first time, the Kentucky Derby will include a corporate sponsor in its official name.

Churchill Downs announced Wednesday that the title of the 132nd Derby on May 6 will be the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. Yum! is based in Louisville and is the parent company of such worldwide brands as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Long John Silver's.

The new arrangement is for five years, and Churchill officials declined to comment on the value of the deal. But according to one person who was close to the negotiations, Yum! will pay at least $2.5 million per year.

The introduction of Yum! as a presenting sponsor represents a shift in the corporate landscape of the Derby. The new arrangement will lessen the visibility of Visa USA, which for 10 years was a cohesive force among the three Triple Crown races as the title sponsor of the series and by offering a $5 million bonus to any horse who could win all three.

Visa, the credit card company, ended its overall sponsorship of the Triple Crown last year but signed a five-year deal as a Derby sponsor, which gives Visa cardholders some privileges in buying Derby tickets and other perks. The Triple Crown bonus, which dates to 1987, is no longer being offered, and it seems unlikely that any new sponsor would be willing to renew it.

The breakdown in Triple Crown unity began in earnest last year when the New York Racing Association cut its own deal for Belmont Stakes television rights with ABC; both the Derby and Preakness have retained NBC through 2010.

"For several years we have contemplated a major sponsorship for the Kentucky Derby but decided we would only pursue an agreement if it was with the right partner," Tom Meeker, president and chief executive officer of Churchill Downs Inc., said in a statement about the Yum! deal. "Our partnership will allow Churchill Downs and Yum! Brands to work together to assure a strong future for a great American sports event."

The new deal will afford Yum! substantial exposure at Churchill, notably on Derby Day. The Yum! logo will appear throughout the racetrack property, including beneath the famed twin spires on a sign that shows the historic span of the race (1875 to 2006). The brand will also appear on the sign above the Derby starting gate and on outrider jackets. Yum! will be highly prominent on the telecast of the race, including six 30-second advertisements on the NBC broadcast.

The purse for the Derby, which was doubled for the 2005 running to $2 million, remains the same for this year. Churchill said a fraction of the revenues from the Yum! sponsorship will be funneled into overnight purses during the track's spring and fall meets.

Yum!, which was formed in 1997, has nearly 34,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and territories, according to a statement issued by Churchill. Institutional investors own about 80 percent of stock in the company, and individual investors own the balance. Its chairman and chief executive officer, David Novak, is highly prominent in local and national business affairs. This is the first major sponsorship effort by Yum!, which until now has relied on the strength of its individual brands.