John Smith calls last orders on Grand National

Aintree is seeking a new sponsor for the Grand National after brewing giant John Smith’s announced it was calling last orders on its sponsorship of the race in 2013.

The company’s Brand Manager Karen Crowley reflected on the achievements of their partnership with Jockey Club racecourses, which runs Aintree. She said, "We end our long association in the knowledge that we have created a successful and significant sponsorship model that will serve Aintree and its new sponsors well in the future. We’ve enjoyed nine exciting years as the sponsor of jump racing’s flagship event, during which time he have seen the John Smith’s Grand National achieve record TV viewing figures and attendances. However, we felt that now was the right time to move on, reflecting changes in the ale market and the development of the John Smith’s brand.”

It’s hard to see what difference changes in the ale market make, and whilst there may well be some sound commercial reasons to move on, there are surely other factors involved. Top amongst these is the image of the race, and the strident negative publicity it has received in the last couple of years in particular, following Jason Maguire’s whip suspension after the win of Ballabriggs in 2011 and the deaths of Ornais and Dooney’s Gate in the same race, and Gold Cup winner Synchronised this year. The recent departure of Julian Thick as managing director, with whom John Smith’s worked closely, will also have played a part in their decision to move on.

That may feature strongly in negotiations with a new sponsor, although Aintree chairman Lord Daresbury, aka former champion amateur jockey Peter Greenall, is confident there will be plenty of businesses ready to form an orderly queue. Maybe his own brewing company, Greenalls, will be one of them. Lord Daresbury said, “I’m sad about it. With a new management team in place, it comes at a bad time and puts more pressure on us all. It would naturally have been easier if John Smith’s have been willing to extend the contract again, but I am completely confident the race will attract plenty of new interest.”

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John Smith’s confirmed they will continue to support racing through sponsorship at other racecourses, and they do intend to continue their involvement in both York’s John Smith’s Cup, the Magnet Cup to those with long memories, and the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle.

Meanwhile, the search for a new sponsor begins. The Geegeez Grand National sounds good. Well, we can dream.

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