Horse racing-Heineken ale to end Grand National sponsorship

LONDON Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:30am EST

LONDON Nov 26 (Reuters) - British horse racing's Grand National has joined a growing sporting scramble for corporate cash after Heineken's John Smith's beer said it would end its title sponsorship of the world famous steeplechase next year.

Competition for sponsors' pounds is tough in Britain where the economy is stagnating and major events like the London Olympics and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games have sucked up some of the money that is available.

UK Athletics is aiming to recruit a new group of sponsors after insurer Aviva pulled out, while England's cricket team is also looking for a new shirt sponsor to replace Brit Insurance from 2014.

The Grand National race at Aintree is one of the highlights of the jump racing calendar but its image has been marred by the deaths of 33 horses since 1973, leading to calls for smaller fields and more changes to the gruelling course.

The decision to end the sponsorship after nine years was a commercial one although the safety record had been a consideration, said David Jones, a spokesman for Heineken UK. John Smith's is one of the Dutch brewer's brands.

"The publicity we have had as a sponsor has been more positive than negative," he said, adding the company might remain a backer of the race in some form.

John Smith's is believed to have spent almost 20 million pounds ($32 million) on the title sponsorship and related marketing since 2005.

It now plans to focus its marketing activities on consumers in pubs, clubs and supermarkets to help counter a declining market for ales.

Parent company Heineken was a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics and also backs European soccer and rugby club competitions.

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