BREWING giant John Smith’s says its surprise decision to end its long-running sponsorship of the Grand National has nothing to do with animal welfare issues and adverse publicity surrounding the world’s most famous steeplechase.
The Tadcaster firm’s nine-year association with the Aintree race will end next April after the sponsor, part of the wider Heineken empire, said it wanted to “move on”. However, it will continue to sponsor other races, such as the John Smith’s Cup at York.
Two horses have died in each of the last two runnings of the National – this year’s fatalities were the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised and the Malton-trained According To Pete who was brought down at Becher’s Brook.
A number of safety modifications have been undertaken at Aintree in recent years, including lowering some fences, moving the stop and reducing the drop at Becher’s Brook.
“The Grand National has been one of the jewels in our UK sponsorship crown and the decision to end the title sponsorship was difficult to make,” said John Smith’s brand manager, Karen Crowley. “We’ve enjoyed nine exciting years as the title sponsor of jump racing’s flagship event, during which time we have seen the John Smith’s Grand National achieve record TV viewing figures and attendances.
“We will continue to be involved in racing through events such as the John Smith’s Cup at York and the Northumberland Plate, both televised on Channel 4, and hope that we can find ways to continue being involved in the Grand National meeting in some capacity after 2013.”
It had always been thought by many in racing that John Smith’s would sponsor the first £1m National – but that now appears to be a forlorn prospect.
Though this year’s race attracted 11.1 million viewers on BBC, it remains to be seen whether this figure will be maintained when coverage switches to Channel 4 next April.
However, John Baker, regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses which owns the Merseyside venue, paid tribute to John Smith’s whose association with the National began in 2005 when Headhunter prevailed under Ruby Walsh.
He said: “They have been instrumental in delivering exciting marketing initiatives and bringing the narrative of the Grand National to life.
“Throughout their time, through their invaluable contributions to the race meeting, we’ve seen prize money, attendances and viewing figures grow.
“We are in the process of finalising our sponsorship strategy to ensure the event remains one of the ‘Crown Jewels’ in the worldwide sporting calendar but our focus now is to ensure that in 2013 John Smith’s are given a fitting farewell to the sponsorship of the Grand National.”