Sponsorship controversy won't affect Wildfoods

The organisers of the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival are confident the event will go ahead next year, despite major sponsor Westcoast Brewing abruptly announcing it is pulling the plug.

The brewery had been a Whitebait (Gold) sponsor of the festival for three years, and had a right of renewal on that contract, but two weeks ago told Westland District Council Mayor Maureen Pugh it would not be renewing the sponsorship agreement.

The Westland Business Unit, a council department with responsibility for a number of projects including the Wildfoods Festival, has not yet received a formal notice of the brewery's decision.

Westland Business Unit chairman Jeff Dalley said yesterday festival organisers were surprised by the decision.

Festival organisers had requested information from the brewery, as part of a review of the agreement.

"A review of the performance of both parties at such a time is nothing more than prudent management. The purpose is to identify areas where the partnership is working well and any areas where improvement is needed - this case is no different," Mr Dalley said.

The brewery had responded by pulling out of the agreement.

"That [was] the first time the business unit heard of their intention not to renew, and as yet we have received no explanation for their decision."

The organisers were disappointed that Westcoast Brewing had not chosen to work constructively with them, he said.

But Westcoast Brewing chief executive Paddy Sweeney said today that the business unit was at fault, and called it a secret society in whom he had no confidence.

He said he received a letter from the unit in July which contained "accusations with no basis" which were then used to justify the unit deciding not to renew the contract.

The accusations, which he would not repeat, were "absolute bulldust", Mr Sweeney told NZPA.

Lawyers who had seen the letter had advised him to sue, an option which was still on the table, he said.

Despite the controversy over sponsorship, Westland Business Unit director Sonya Matthews said today that preparation for the 2011 festival was well in hand.

"We are not feeling under any pressure to rush out and replace any sponsorship contracts which may or may not fall over."

The business unit would consider alternative sponsorship arrangements once a formal notice had been received, but such arrangements would probably apply to the 2012 festival, she said.

DB Breweries general manager for corporate affairs Mark Campbell told The Press yesterday that the company would consider sponsoring the festival, should the opportunity arise.




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