Guinness pulls out as Fleadh sponsor

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By Patrick Markey

Two years ago when torrential rain turned part of the New York fleadh festival into a muddy swamp, partygoers kept the spirit alive by dancing through the mire. Even last year’s baking heat did little to frazzle the party mood on the Randalls Island festival site.

But this year America’s premier Irish festival has run into more troublesome problems than unpredictable weather.

Guinness has decided to pull out from its long-term title sponsorship of the event and the festival organizers have postponed the fleadh until September, citing the need for more preparation.

"The decision to postpone the fleadh was made in order to have time to finalize arrangements with a title sponsor for the event," Mean Fiddler, the London company behind the event, said in a statement released last week.

Melvin Benn, Mean Fiddler’s festival organizer, said the Guinness decision had put a large dent in the organizing of the fleadh, but the company is rescheduling and talking to other sponsors, including beer makers, internet companies and magazines.

Details of a line-up of performers are still tentative as the Mean Fiddler company negotiate with acts and work out the format for its September’s program.

Benn declined to comment on the reasons why Guinness had pulled out of the American fleadh events. But he said Guinness had been specific in wanting to cease its association with the Irishness of the original London fleadh.

Howard Pulchin, a Guinness spokesman, said the company would not be continuing its involvement in the American events because of internal reasons which he declined to discuss. Pulchin also declined to discuss the details of Guinness sponsorship.

But he said the decision to pull out of the London fleadh was made earlier and separately from Guinness halting its involvement in the U.S.-based events. Pulchin said Guinness had always looked at programs that appeal to existing and potential drinkers, but an important part of that would be Irish heritage and where Guinness was brewed.

Another Guinness official who asked that his name not be used said the company wanted to get back to basics while maintaining strong ties with the community.

"It’s really just taking a look at what we are doing, what is working and what is not. It’s a different face on the same message," the official said.

Along with corporate supporters such as HMV and Omnipoint, for three years Guinness has lent its heavyweight name to the American-based festivals in New York and later in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. The fleadh’s combination of big-name artists and local bands such as The Prodigals has guaranteed large and mixed audiences.

Touted as an all-around festival experience, Mean Fiddler began the fleadh in London’s Finsbury Park 10 years ago and later crossed the Atlantic in 1997, where the Irish music menu was expanded to include mainstream acts such as Elvis Costello.

Representatives of Murphy’s Irish Stout, a subsidiary of Heineken USA and one of Guinness’s main competitors in the United States, did not return calls seeking comment about whether it is competing for the sponsorship of the fleadh.

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