Sam Adams, Heineken, and Guinness Just Made a Savvy Business Move

Dropping their St. Patrick’s Day parade sponsorships after complaints from the LGBT community is a win-win for the beer companies.

National Journal
Emma Roller
March 17, 2014, 7:33 a.m.

Al­though St. Patrick’s Day may be known as the most drunk­en hol­i­day of the year, or­gan­izers of St. Patrick’s Day fest­iv­it­ies in Bo­ston and New York City have lost fa­vor with the beer com­pan­ies that nor­mally spon­sor them.

It all star­ted when Mass Equal­ity, a group rep­res­ent­ing gay vet­er­ans, ap­plied to have a float in Bo­ston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Parade or­gan­izers at first ac­cep­ted Mass Equal­ity’s ap­plic­a­tion, but then res­cin­ded the of­fer. After pub­lic out­cry, or­gan­izers said that Mass Equal­ity could march in the parade but could not dis­play any pro-LGBT signs.

In protest of the parade or­gan­izers’ de­cision, Bo­ston May­or Marty Walsh did not par­ti­cip­ate in his city’s parade on Sunday. And on Monday, New York City May­or Bill de Bla­sio, along with the city coun­cil, did not join the St. Patrick’s parade.

Gay-friendly bars in Bo­ston and New York City called on beer com­pan­ies to boy­cott the St. Patrick’s Day parades with them. Sam Adams — a long­time parade spon­sor — com­plied, drop­ping its spon­sor­ship of the Bo­ston and New York City parades. Then, Heinek­en dropped its sup­port for the New York parade. “We be­lieve in equal­ity for all. We are no longer a spon­sor of Monday’s parade.” a Heinek­en spokes­man told CN­BC on Fri­day.

Guin­ness soon fol­lowed suit, an­noun­cing it would with­draw its sup­port for the New York Parade as well: “Guin­ness has a strong his­tory of sup­port­ing di­versity and be­ing an ad­voc­ate for equal­ity for all. We were hope­ful that the policy of ex­clu­sion would be re­versed for this year’s parade. As this has not come to pass, Guin­ness has with­drawn its par­ti­cip­a­tion.”

In re­tali­ation, Bo­ston’s Corner­stone Pub stopped selling Sam Adams beer, say­ing it was dis­respect­ful to vet­er­ans. Tom Fla­herty, who owns the pub, is a Vi­et­nam vet­er­an. Fla­herty told My Fox Bo­ston that he isn’t op­posed to the gay-rights is­sue but felt Sam Adams dis­respec­ted his fel­low vet­er­ans by pulling its mon­et­ary sup­port.

The South Bo­ston Al­lied War Vet­er­ans Coun­cil, which or­gan­ized the Bo­ston parade, said it doesn’t op­pose LGBT groups par­ti­cip­at­ing in the event, but doesn’t al­low open ref­er­ences to sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion. “We in­vite all to join us to cel­eb­rate this his­tor­ic event, but we must main­tain our guidelines to en­sure the en­joy­ment and pub­lic safety of our spec­tat­ors,” the group said in a state­ment.

This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s Day parade or­gan­izers have clashed with LGBT groups, but it is the first time the parades have suffered such a ma­jor loss of polit­ic­al and cor­por­ate sup­port as a res­ult.

Des­pite the may­ors’ de­cision to not at­tend the parades, scores of city res­id­ents still turned out to show their Ir­ish (or at least faux-Ir­ish) spir­it. “Al­though I dis­agree with the de­cision of the or­gan­izers not to in­vite the gay vet­er­ans, it didn’t keep me away from the parade, and it won’t in the fu­ture,” Aaron Gold­stein wrote in the Amer­ic­an Spec­tat­or.

For the beer com­pan­ies that dropped out of the parades, this is a win-win: Whatever pub­lic vis­ib­il­ity they may have lost has been made up for by the na­tion­al me­dia at­ten­tion they’ve re­ceived. And while it may cost them in St. Patrick’s Day sales, Guin­ness, Sam Adams, and Heinek­en may have a new, loy­al cus­tom­er base for years to come.

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