SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Stella’s off to the races with Churchill deal

Stella Artois is the new official beer of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby in a multiyear deal that marks the first time the Anheuser-Busch brand has signed a sponsorship with a U.S. sporting event of national prominence.

The deal is expected to be announced today.

Stella Artois, an Anheuser-Busch brand will be featured at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.
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Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but a source said it was valued in the seven figures annually. The deal also gives Stella rights as the official beer of the Kentucky Oaks, the race for 3-year-old fillies held the day before the Derby.

Stella replaces A-B brand Bud Select, which had been the sponsor of Churchill and the races since 2008. Its deal expired last year. Prior to Bud Select, Coors Light held the sponsorship.

“It’s the Super Bowl of horse racing,” said Brad Brown, vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for A-B, of the Derby. “It’s a very important property for us and it will be a great opportunity for the Stella brand.”

A-B will have an additional ad buy on the NBC broadcast of the May 5 Derby, which is often one of the highest-rated sporting events of the second quarter of the year, but Brown said he did not know whether Stella or other A-B brands would be featured in commercials around the broadcast.

With the sponsorship, Stella will be featured at Churchill events year-round, including the venue’s Downs After Dark night racing program. The deal also covers social events held the week before the Derby, including the Opening Night festivities the Saturday one week prior to the race and the Thursday night Taste of the Derby event. Presenting sponsorship of the red-carpet entrances at Churchill for VIPs for the Oaks and Derby are part of the deal as well, Brown said.

A-B gained the Stella brand as part of its deal with InBev in 2008. Although the Belgian brand has sponsored local and regional sporting events, the Derby is the first major U.S. sporting event that the brand has sponsored, Brown said. Part of the attraction of the Derby, he said, is that it is a “very social, high-end event,” making it a good fit for Stella, which has a higher price point than many other A-B beer brands.

Globally, Stella for 30 years was title sponsor of a summer ATP event in England. That branding for the Stella Artois Championships ended in 2008.

Kristin Warfield, Churchill vice president of partnerships, said a few more sponsorships are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, but she did not provide further details. Churchill recently announced Moët & Chandon champagne as a sponsor. The Derby did not previously have a champagne brand as a sponsor.

Moët & Chandon and Stella are two examples of the kind of brands Churchill Downs has been pursuing as part of an overall philosophy to position the Derby as a high-end event, as well as a piece of Americana. Churchill Downs CEO Bob Evans has been working in recent years to make the Derby known not only for its label as the most exciting two minutes in sports, but also as a social and entertainment event that’s a weeklong celebration of horse racing.

“Anheuser-Busch’s switch of brands that they want to associate with the Derby I think reflects the fact Churchill has been presenting the Derby brand differently,” Evans said. “That is where we have been trying to get.”


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