The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Derby Ads Shock

Derby Ads Shock

By Peter Gloviczki
Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2004

Saturday's Kentucky Derby captivated the sports world, as Smarty Jones continued his streak of undefeated races and won the first leg of the Triple Crown. But the 130th Kentucky Derby was notable for another reason as well. It marked the first time that jockeys have been allowed to wear advertisements on their uniforms during the race.

The advertisements, which come in the form of small patches that bear the corporate logo of the sponsor, have caused a great deal of controversy after a recent court ruling allowed such forms of advertising to be worn by jockeys.

Citing the First Amendment rights of the jockeys, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II overturned a Kentucky state law called "traditions of the turf" which forbids, among other things, corporate sponsorship of jockeys. Although the organizers' desire to ensure that jockeys do not become "walking billboards" is well founded, the judge was right to allow the jockeys to wear advertisers' patches.

Critics argue that advertisements are not suited to the Kentucky Derby for two reasons. First, as a sport steeped in tradition, there are those who believe that because the Derby has survived for 130 years without advertisements it is unnecessary to include them now.

Although I am all for tradition, I believe that this argument is slightly naïve, considering the prevalence of advertising in sports. Many professional sports teams have their footwear and other apparel provided by companies such as Nike and Russell Athletic. The realm of corporate sponsorship extends to sports arenas as well. From the Target Center in Minneapolis to U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park) in Chicago, these corporations have become fixtures in the cities in which these facilities are located.

Such corporate sponsorship did not exist 100 years ago, but then again, neither did the corporate marketing techniques of the 21st century. Companies have learned that they can further their brand identification, and ideally promote brand loyalty among consumers, when they associate themselves with professional sports. This occurs in most sports and there is no reason why it cannot occur in horseracing as well.

Although some believe the advertisements are uncalled for purely because of tradition, others cite the possibility that the use of advertisers' patches on jockeys could make it easier for jockeys to conceal objects in their hands (such as special whips which emit an electrical charge that they could use to gain an unfair advantage in the race). Regarding this contention, there must be clear limitations about what a jockey can and cannot display on his uniform. Jockeys have the right to wear advertisements, but we must not allow the placement of these advertisements to shield a jockey from the judges.

With this said, as long as the integrity of the sport is protectedand jockeys are not allowed to place advertisements on their uniforms that further their abilities to cheatJudge Heyburn's ruling should stand.

Like their counterparts NASCAR and professional tennis, jockeys should be allowed to endorse products during horse races. Considered the "Super Bowl" of professional horseracing, the Kentucky Derby is the most-watched horse race of the season. Accordingly, many jockeys could secure lucrative endorsements for the race. According to an April 29 story on ESPN.com, some jockeys were offered as much as $30,000 to wear advertisers' patches during the race.

If Michael Jordan can sell sneakers and Alex Rodriguez can do the same with sportswear, then why can't jockeys advertise too? Indeed, from Jordan to Rodriguez, we live in a world where athletes make millions of dollars on advertisements. Jockeys should be offered the same opportunity, and Heyburn's ruling should remain in effect not only for this Kentucky Derby or the next, but also well into the future.

For a few minutes every May, the sports world stops to watch the horses gallop around 1-1/4 mile track at Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kent. During this event, jockeys should retain the opportunity to wear advertisers' patches on their uniforms

The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota. Manitou Messenger
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