Derby Fest Loses Sponsors

This year’s Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, Ky., is about $250,000 behind in sponsorship commitments for events compared with a year ago.

Some sponsors have pulled out, Festival President and CEO Mike Berry told the Courier-Journal of Louisville.

Patrick Armstrong, the festival’s senior vice president of marketing and development, said 2009 is the most difficult year the fest has experienced in lining up corporate sponsorships.

Berry said a majority of the decline in sponsorships has been in the $750 to $10,000 range.

The budget for the 54th Derby Fest, which kicks off April 18 and runs during the two weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby May 2, is at $6 million compared with 2008’s $5.9 million budget, according to the Courier-Journal. Major events at the festival include The Great Balloon Race, The Great Steamboat Race and The Pegasus Parade.

Corporate sponsors usually cover about half of the fest’s budget with the rest of the funds coming from Pegasus pins and festival merch, event entry fees and ticket sales and concession sales.

To help out with the budget, the cost of this year’s Pegasus pins, which allow those wearing the pins to get in free to many festival events, will be a dollar higher, raised to $4 at retailers and $5 at events.

One sponsor that pulled out of the fest is Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, which helped with several events in 2008, while one new sponsor that joined the 2009 fest is the Friends of Coal Kentucky. The nonprofit company will be sponsoring a major concert, with a yet-to-be-named artist, at the festival.

There are 70 events on the books for this year’s fest, about as many as in 2008, and the paper reported that officials aren’t ready to comment whether the fest will be scaled down until fund-raising is complete.

A Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association dinner was dropped from the fest by mutual consent while two events were added this year – a “Dancing With the Stars”-themed event and a prom-style party for teenagers called the Illumination Derby Ball.

The Kentucky Derby Festival, which attracts about 1.5 million people each year, kicks off April 18 with the opening ceremony, Thunder Over Louisville, a huge air and fireworks show.