I love horse racing. Sure, I like the betting that's associated with it, but I also enjoy the beauty of watching thoroughbreds thunder around the track. The majestic animals maneuvering for supremacy, the crowds turning toward the finish line, and the ceremony of the winner's circle augment the sights, sounds, and smells of the stables.
The sport of kings
Because of my love for the sport, I'm torn over the brash sponsorship by United Parcel Service
As part of the sponsorship deal, though, Big Brown's jockey wears brown pants with the UPS logo and dons a brown UPS cap after the race is run. UPS has extended its contract to the Belmont Stakes at New York's Belmont Park, where the third leg of horse racing's storied Triple Crown will be run. No horse has won all three races in the 30 years since Affirmed won it.
Despite the death of Eight Belles at Churchill Downs
Further, UPS has muted some of the criticism from animal rights proponents by donating $10,000 to Thoroughbred Charities of America, a volunteer organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and retirement of racing horses. Eight Belles didn't quite get the same eulogy as did Barbaro, but Barbaro was a horse in a different class, perhaps up there with Secretariat, Kelso, Citation, and Man o' War.
A rose by any other name
Yet this is where I'm torn over the sponsorship. You can look at almost any sport these days and find big corporate logos plastered everywhere. Home Depot
Only a few sports have been able to resist the lure of easy money associated with corporate sponsorship, though individual players have been bought and sold by companies many times over. Now that's a risky venture.
The bigger they are ...
Big-name players come with equally large egos and try to live out their lives on an equally large stage. When they fall from the pedestal they've been placed on, that can cause a backlash against their sponsors. Ask Nike
Down the homestretch
The history and tradition of horse racing ought to put it above crass corporate sponsorship, and the sport's rules do prohibit naming horses with specific commercial interests. Big Brown was permitted because UPS abandoned the trademark a few years ago. Not that it's not still reaping the benefits of the common-law rights associated with it.
Yet it's also true that the sport has been ailing lately, and anything that can infuse it with excitement, interest, and of course money to keep it going can't be all that bad. For racing purists, however, it won't ever be the same.
Watching these beautiful animals compete against one another would still be just as exciting, but even if Big Brown's heart is as strong as any NASCAR engine, having these kingly horses end up looking like race cars with logos, stickers, and emblems slapped on every square inch of their sleek bodies would be a travesty.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey can be spotted among other railbirds, but he doesn't have a financial position in any stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.