The Cheltenham Festival was dealt another blow earlier this month, when key partners Magners announced they would not be renewing their contract, which expires after this season’s meeting.
Magners signed up to become the official sponsors of the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. As part of the deal, Cheltenham’s flagship event, the Gold Cup was renamed the Magners Gold Cup, and the meeting was called “The Festival, presented by Magners”.
Due to the popularity of the Cheltenham Festival, it was expected that Magners would extend this partnership beyond their initial four-year contract. That was until Covid-19 intervened.
Horse racing has been playing catch-up ever since the first national lockdown in March. A week after the 2020 Cheltenham Festival finished, all sport in Britain was brought to a standstill. The Grand National Festival at Aintree was cancelled, and many other meetings that were usually held during April and May were either written off or delayed indefinitely.
On June 1st, racing was given the green light to resume. The BHA managed to cram all the major flat races into a condensed season, pushing the Guineas and Epsom Derby meetings back a month from their usual spots on the calendar. Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood took place at their usual times of the year, and the new National Hunt season has commenced without any disruptions.
The fact that horse racing has been able to get back on track so quickly has to be celebrated. However, staging meetings behind closed doors has meant that racecourses haven’t brought in any money since last March although online Cheltenham tipsters did report an increase in online bets being placed during the pandemic period and expect this to continue into 2021.
This has left many racecourses on the verge of going bust. Depleted prize money has forced a few yards to close altogether, and the Cheltenham Festival has lost three of its main sponsors.
In October, it was announced that both RSA and the Racing Post would no longer sponsor races at the Festival. Royal and Sun Alliance had been sponsoring the Grade One Novices’ Chase on day two of the meeting for the best part of 50 years, while the Racing Post had enjoyed a decade-long partnership with the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the second race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
Organisers claimed they had been inundated with requests to fill those vacant sponsorship voids. Last month, it was revealed that betting website SportingLife would sponsor the Arkle in 2021. Yet, it’s been a case of one step forward and two steps back, as Magners decided to discontinue their sponsorship of this historic meeting.
Reports drawn up last month found that the UK pub market had lost somewhere in the region of £14 billion during the pandemic. Magners announced that they would need to reduce market and minimise spending in the wake of Covid-19, so it was only natural that their high-profile partnership with the Cheltenham Festival would end.
The Jockey Club, which owns Cheltenham racecourse and many other venues, revealed that they themselves had lost £90 million since the start of April. The search to find a new partner for their flagship event is sure to be a swift and desperate one, as horse racing continues to count the cost of Covid.