10/25/2017 11:40AM

Woodford Reserve now presenting sponsor of Kentucky Derby

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Woodford Reserve, a bourbon brand of the Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp., will become the new presenting sponsor next year of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs under a five-year agreement reached between Churchill and the liquor company.

Woodford Reserve will replace Yum! Brands as the presenting sponsor of the Derby, two years prior to the expiration of Yum! Brands’s current sponsorship contract with Churchill. Under the new contract, the Derby will be formally called the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the two companies said.

In a statement, the companies said that details of the deal would not be released. The sponsorship deal is believed to be the most valuable in racing, considering that the Derby broadcast is perennially the highest-rated racing broadcast of the year and among the highest-rated sports broadcasts of the year.

Woodford Reserve is already the sponsor of the Turf Classic, a race on the Derby undercard that has traditionally been slotted just prior to the Derby. The brand also has been the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” since 1999.

Churchill officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the status of the sponsorship of the Turf Classic. The announcement made no mention of the race.

Under the deal, Woodford Reserve also will be the presenting sponsor for the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” a series of 35 races designated by Churchill as providing horses with points toward their eligibility to start in the Derby.

In a statement, the chief executive officer of Yum! Brands, which also is based in Louisville, said that the company had changed its marketing focus over the past several years to focus on its individual restaurant brands, which include the fast-food franchises KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. Yum! Brands was the first presenting sponsor in the Derby’s history when it signed its initial contract in 2006, embracing a somewhat unusual marketing strategy of trying to draw attention to the company’s stock.

“The initial focus of our sponsorship in 2006 was to leverage the Kentucky Derby’s global TV audience to build awareness with individual investors who knew our well-known restaurant brands but not Yum!,” said the chief executive, Greg Creed. “Since then, Yum!’s visibility has grown significantly and we’ve shifted our marketing focus to our brands.”