Sponsorship: Brewers going further afield: Money from drinks companies is fuelling many popular music festivals this summer

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The Independent Online
IF LOGIC had anything to do with it, summer music festivals in Britain would be nothing more than a promoter's pipe-dream. But normally sensible people somehow put the realities of the nation's weather to the back of their minds and are convinced that the chance of seeing many of their favourite acts on one stage is worth a large entrance fee and the risk of drowning in a sea of mud.

Perhaps more surprisingly, at a time when promotional budgets are being cut, several drinks companies have been keen to join in the fun.

This is partly because of the long-standing link between 'real' music and alcohol - more than one liquor manufacturer has used an ageing blues artist to sell its wares. But it is also recognition that thousands of people packed into a field provide a captive audience for a drinks marketing effort.

For example, anyone who attended last month's Fleadh in Finsbury Park, London, could not have failed to come away with a greater awareness of Murphy's, the stout from Cork being brewed under licence in Britain by Whitbread. As the premier Irish event of the year, the music festival provided a great opportunity to demonstrate to a sector of the public that there was more to Irish beer than Guinness - as well as a chance to sell a few thousand pints.

In fact, Guinness was nowhere to be seen. Murphy's sponsored the event and claims it sold more than 34,000 pints on the day - 10 per cent more than the total sales of the dark stuff by it and its rivals last year. It also raised its profile significantly by having one of the three stages named after it, running up a few banners, kitting out armies of bar staff in T-shirts and featuring in heavy promotion prior to the festival.

A similar affinity is claimed for the link between Greene King and the Cambridge Folk Festival, which takes place next weekend. The East Anglian brewer has been involved with the annual event in some way for nearly a decade. But three years ago it became a proper sponsor, to the extent of including the name of its cult beer, Abbot Ale, in the event's title.

The company's public relations manager, Mark Hunt, explained that the move was a deliberate attempt to exploit 'a good brand that enjoys a national reputation'. The event was right because there were 'certain synergies'.

'Cask-conditioned ale is absolutely right for the people that attend it,' he added.

Mr Hunt will not divulge the level of support given to the event's organiser, the local council, but he admits that it amounts to the company's single biggest sponsorship. This is justified because the event is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and is supported by extensive media coverage.

Precision about a sponsorship's goals appears to be crucial. For instance, Courage has lent its name to the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival, to be held at Colne in Lancashire at the end of next month, simply because - in the words of a spokesman - East Lancashire is 'an area Courage is committed to making a major showcase for its brands'.

Indeed, waving the flag seems to be considered much more important than the amount of beer shifted. Mr Hunt says that the 'volumes are still good enough for us' - despite the discouragement to heavy drinking brought about by tougher drink-driving laws and the growing trend towards festival-goers arriving with their own stocks.

More important still appears to be sentiment. Next weekend's arrangement has struck such a chord within Greene King, for instance, that the company is able to run most of its bars with its own employees who take the time as holiday for the privilege.

Murphy's said its product was 'characterised by a sociable, unpretentious nature - something that fits in with the image and reality of Fleadh.'

(Photograph omitted)