Mobile phone giants “3” have shown the Irish Open the red card by pulling the plug on its sponsorship deal.
And shocked US Open champion Graeme McDowell reckons it will be “a travesty” if one of Europe’s most prestigious national opens disappears from the European Tour schedule in 2011.
The communications company has decided not to take up its option to back the event for a third year, insisting that its €7.5m sponsorship deal with the FAI is commercially a better bet in the long term.
In a statement, 3 said: “Following a review of its sponsorship portfolio, a decision was taken to streamline activities. 3 believes its support of the Irish football team will deliver the most commercial value for the brand into the future.”
Major winner McDowell was the first Irish player to react to the news that the future of the Irish Open is hanging by a thread once more.
Speaking from Singapore, McDowell said: “It’s a huge disappointment that 3 have pulled out having done so many great things with the event the last two years.
“It’s imperative that we find a way to make the Irish Open happen next year as no event in Ireland would be a travesty with the strength of Irish golf right now.
“The markets are tough right now, especially in Ireland, but all the Irish players will be fully behind the drive to make this event happen.”
World No 9 Rory McIlroy was also shocked to hear that 3 had pulled the plug considering Irish golf is riding high with four major wins in the last four years.
McIlroy said: “I’m sorry to hear that 3 have decided not to continue their support of the Irish Open after two great years. With the Major success seen in Ireland over the last few years I hope someone will step in and continue one of the oldest and best events.
The writing was on the wall for the Irish Open when 3 announced a €7.5m, four-year deal with the FAI on August 5, just FOUR DAYS after Ross Fisher claimed the title in Killarney.
The deal with FAI is another example of 3 CEO Robert Finnegan’s strong relationship with his native Waterford.
When his company took over as sponsors of the Irish Open last year, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism was Waterford TD Martin Cullen.
Finnegan has thrown his weight behind the FAI, whose current CEO is Waterford man John Delaney. So it will come as no surprise that the mobile phone company already sponsors soccer side Waterford United FC as well as Waterford GAA. An example of Irish parish pump politics at full tilt.
The news of 3’s decision to pull out of golf came as a shock to the Kerry venue Killarney Golf and Fishing Club and Fáilte Ireland, who helped bankroll a €3m extravaganza that attracted 82,000 fans to the Kingdom over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Keith McCormack, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of Business Tourism and Golf said: “We have just received this news today and will be reviewing the situation regarding the Irish Open for 2011 with the European Tour.
“We fully appreciate that ‘3’ have to set their own marketing priorities and welcome their continued commitment to sport in this country. This year’s Irish Open provided Irish tourism with a great marketing opportunity and we would hope to be in a position to repeat that again next year.”
Maurice O’Meara, Killarney’s general manager, was also shocked by the news, having said just a few weeks ago that the was “confident” that the Kerry venue would stage the Irish Open again in 2011.
O’Meara said: “Of course this is disappointing news but we hope to play our part in future and want to stage it here again. We played our part in making a success of the Irish Open last year and hope to play our part in the future.”