By Kentucky Derby Festival President & CEO Matthew A. Gibson
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people gather in Louisville for concerts, fireworks, and other extraordinary events that take place in the weeks leading up to the world-renowned horse race. We are proud of the work the Kentucky Derby Festival does in coordinating programming that brings our community together and truly makes spring in Louisville a unique tradition.
As the world continues to fight the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all found ourselves in uncharted territory. It threatens our health and safety, as well as our livelihood. The plans for the 2020 Festival were upended, as were plans for so many others in the live-event industry across the country.
While not holding events this year was the right decision, it is devastating to the Festival, our industry and our city nonetheless. In addition to our own challenges, the absence of this year's Festival has created a hardship for many of our sponsors, vendors and other community partners. Tourism (both local and state) has declined and many are left without jobs as a result. Without events like Thunder Over Louisville, area hotels have had to scramble to look for other ways to generate revenue. It could be several months before we get to the other side of this curve – both health-wise and economically.
We know that both Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman John Yarmuth have been working very hard to protect businesses in Kentucky, and elsewhere in America. We ask that as Congress works towards securing additional funding for struggling entities, those of us in the events industry are included.
While the Festival is a private, not-for-profit entity, it is classified as a 501(c)(4). Unlike other 501(c)(4) organizations, we do not spend resources on lobbying activities. We are a small business with a 23-person staff who are tasked with producing a community celebration. We believe we are in many ways the type of asset for which a program such as the PPP was intended.
To make it through this crisis and protect the Derby Festival in future years, we need continued aid based on revenues lost now – and beyond. We expect to see more cancellations of live concerts, sporting events, conventions, and festivals like ours before this crisis subsides.
We thank Senator McConnell and Congressman Yarmuth for their efforts and encourage them to keep leading the way in protecting Kentucky businesses in CARES 4, especially those of us in one of the most vulnerable and hard-hit professions – and that will likely be the last to re-open. We need their help to save our favorite Kentucky traditions.