By Harry Keaney
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Stamford, Conn., will step off at noon on Saturday.
But it will be an event that almost wasn’t.
That’s because parade sponsors, Murphy’s Irish Stout, told parade organizers in the middle of January that it would not sponsor the parade this year, according to parade committee chairman John Condlin.
As uncertainty reigned over whether the Stamford parade could take place in the wake of Murphy’s decision, organizers scurried to find another sponsor. In the end, the Stamford-based Guinness Import Company stepped into the breach.
Condlin, who is also president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, said that if the parade organizers, the Stamford Ancient Order of Hibernians, had not found a sponsor, the parade would not have continued. He said that Guinness was able to arrange the sponsorship within a 10-day period.
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"We are very fortunate that Guinness helped us, Stamford is Guinness’ corporate headquarters and I think the marriage will work very well for us and in the years to come," parade committee member Jim Bartley said.
The current arrangement with Guinness is just for this year, but further discussions are expected to take place between parade organizers and the AOH after Saturday’s event is over.
Four years ago, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was revived in Stamford. Murphy’s Irish Stout, which is owned by Dutch brewer Heineken USA, was sponsor.
Whether or not Murphy’s agreed to sponsor the parade for five years, however, is a matter of dispute.
Condlin said there was "a verbal agreement and a handshake," but he admitted "documents were never signed."
Murphy’s representatives had not responded to inquiries by the time the Echo went to press.
Bartley said that the organizers told Murphy’s they were looking for a long-term commitment and "we pointed out five years and they agreed to that."
"They were very good to us, I will not sit here and say all negative things about Murphy’s, but I think they had some change in their leadership and they decided they wanted to go in another direction with their community and PR dollars," Bartley said.
Condlin said that, after the first parade, Murphy’s was given the option of first refusal as sponsors. Murphy’s sponsored the parade the second year to the tune of $5,000, according to Condlin.
He added that in the third year of the parade, Murphy’s contributed $15,000. "They performed 100 percent, perfect," he said of Murphy’s.
"Then, last year, an agreement was worked out for them giving less money, $12,000," according to Condlin. He said that only in the second week of January this year did Murphy’s tell him the company would not be sponsors this year.
Condlin also said that the reason Murphy’s sponsored the parade was because "it was in Guinness’s backyard."
"That was the wrong reason. They need to do this because it was commitment to the community," he added.
Guinness spokesman Howard Pulchin declined to be drawn into a discussion on whether or not Guinness would enter into a five-year agreement to be parade sponsors. "We are very pleased to be sponsors of the parade. It’s a nice way to give back to the community in which we have our corporate offices." he said, adding that Guinness was looking forward to the parade next Saturday.
The parade costs about $20,000, with the major expense for the expenses of bands, as well as items such as advertising, mailing, fees and parade supplies.