Churchill Downs Lands Coors Light Sponsorship

Coors Light has signed a three-year, six-figure sponsorship deal to become the official beer of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Churchill Downs beginning in 2003.

The sponsorship is one of three significant sponsorship deals signed by Churchill Downs recently. The others are expanded deals with the Brown-Forman distillery and American Airlines.

Coors Light was awarded the sponsorship because it was willing to go far beyond using the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) only as a means to entertain clients and reward managers and vendors. The brand already is planning a special Kentucky Derby commemorative can that will be distributed next year in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Mo.

"We basically approached all three major brewers, presented them with the same opportunity and asked them to submit their best offers," said Tyrone Tubbs, Churchill Downs' senior vice president of sales, who came from Major League Baseball to oversee Derby and Oaks sponsorships. "We wanted to go beyond hospitality. We wanted someone willing to go from top to bottom, and we wanted a multi-year deal."

The deal includes signage around the racetrack, an increase in Coors Light beer taps at concession stands, and the use of Coors Light hawking trays by grandstand vendors. Anheuser-Busch or Miller brewing companies are not shut out completely. The rivals can participate in corporate hospitality. Churchill Downs also is prohibited from offering exclusive pouring rights for beer like it has with Pepsi for soft drinks, according to Tubbs.

While the "official beer" status isn't activated until next year, Coors Light has jumped right in with other promotions. Coors is sponsoring a t-shirt giveaway May 12, and Coors Light will have a tent in Churchill Downs' on-track corporate entertainment community called Marquee Village during Derby weekend.

Kentucky distiller Brown-Forman expanded its relationship with Churchill Downs by signing a three-year, multi-track agreement worth seven figures.

The company already holds a handful of exclusive Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs marketing rights including the official bourbon (Woodford Reserve), the official mint julep bourbon (Early Times), the official vodka (Finlandia), the official champagne (Korbel), and the official wine (Fetzer). Now Brown-Forman has extended those rights to all Churchill Downs-owned tracks: Hollywood Park, Arlington Park, Calder Race Course, Ellis Park, and Hoosier Park.

The distillery is stepping up its promotions this year by associating its Early Times brand with a free trip for two to the Kentucky Derby. Woodford Reserve will produce a collector's bottle for the Derby and continue its sponsorship of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) on the Derby undercard.

American Airlines re-signed as the official airline of the Kentucky Derby deal and also cut a one-year deal to the be the official airline for Arlington Park. The agreement is a continuation of deal struck last year, includes some cash and bartering as opposed to last year that was entirely bartered.

The airlines has committed to additional print advertising.

"It is one deal we hope to build on," said Tubbs. "We hope to get them a little more integrated into other aspects of our business."