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Sponsor refuses to pay ‘super-spreader’ festival

Magners Cider is facing legal action in the UK after allegedly defaulting on nearly £2m worth of sponsorship commitments

By Jon Chapple on 20 Jul 2021

Racing fans at Cheltenham Festival 2020

Fans at Cheltenham Festival 2020

image © Cheltenham Racecourse

Cider company Magners is facing legal action for allegedly refusing to pay more than £1.7 million in owed sponsorship money after a partner festival became a Covid-19 ‘super-spreader’ event.

Magners, owned by Dublin-based C&C Group, claims that the decision by Cheltenham Festival to push ahead in 2020 caused the four-day festival serious reputational damage and as such should have been cancelled.

The popular horse-racing event took place with over 250,000 visitors from 10 to 13 March 2020, ten days before the first UK lockdown on 23 March. It also featured a new live music-focused enclosure, The Park, featuring DJ sets from Nick Grimshaw, Laura Whitmore, Roman Kemp and more.

According to the Telegraph, Cheltenham Festival 2020 was “widely seen as a Covid superspreader event”, though organisers and the Department of Health and Social Care confirm the event was operating within the public health guidance at the time. (Just over a week earlier, on 1 March, the UK’s deputy chief medical officer had told event organisers there was no need to stop major events to halt the spread of the coronavirus.)

C&C claims the decision to push ahead in 2020 caused the festival serious reputational damage

Magners had agreed to sponsor the festival, as well as other meetings at Cheltenham Racecourse, from 2018 to 2022 in a deal worth just over £1.7 million. However, in documents filed with the High Court in London, C&C claims that the 2020 Cheltenham Festival should have been cancelled, and revealed that it also did not want the Magners name associated with the 2021 event, which was held behind closed doors.

The Jockey Club, owner of the racecourse, is now suing C&C for damages of £1,733,761.51, arguing that it has violated the terms of the sponsorship agreement, which remains in force.

A racing industry source tells the Telegraph it is confident the Jockey Club will win the ensuing legal battle, saying: “Magners appear to be trying to throw mud at the Cheltenham Festival because they know their own defence is weak. The Jockey Club appear to be confident of their case, that the sponsorship contract agreed with [Magners] stands, is valid and must be honoured.”

C&C declined to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings.


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