Brands unwavering on Melbourne Cup sponsorship despite growing opposition

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 5 November 2019

Major sponsors have maintained their support for the Melbourne Cup despite increasing community concern following reports of how retired horses are treated in abattoirs and knackeries.

According to industry sources, the Victorian Racing Club (VRC) issued its sponsors talking points on how to manage media enquiries surrounding the ABC's report of abuse and mistreatment of racehorses.

Brands contacted by AdNews acknowledged the public’s concerns but stated their support and confidence in the VRC and Racing Victoria’s efforts around animal welfare. Many others ignored enquires or declined to comment.

A key indicator for the public’s support of racing will be the level of support from punters, including the many Australians who only bet on the one race each year.

In the lead up to the Melbourne Cup, betting on the Caulfield Cup reportedly fell almost 25% or $31.4 million to $96.3 million. The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s largest betting event and Australians are expected to outlay $1 billion over the eight-day carnival.

Ten is broadcasting the races for the first time since 2002, after securing a $100-million deal over five years.

Lexus ambassador Megan Gale withdrew from the event following the ABC report. In a statement the Australian model said it wasn’t a decision she made lightly but didn’t elaborate.

US singer Taylor Swift and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before star Lana Condor also pulled out from the event, both reportedly citing “scheduling conflicts”.

Across the nation, business owners are also shunning the event. Instead of broadcasting the races, venues are opting to host #NupToTheCup events, which include everything from movie screenings, tattoo inking, yoga classes and fundraising events rather than showing the races.

The races themselves face protests, with reports of demonstrations yesterday at the Melbourne Cup Parade and more expected for today’s main event across cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.

While the ABC report focused on Queensland abattoirs and knackeries, the management of horses across the country is being scrutinised.

In response to the report, the VRC and Melbourne Cup Carnival have established the VRC Equine Wellbeing Fund, with $1 million starting contribution. Additionally, 10% of all public ticket sales from this year’s carnival, and 5% of VRC annual membership fees will be directed to the fund.

Racing Victoria has also invested $25 million focused on the wellbeing of retired thoroughbreds in Victoria.

VRC CEO Neil Wilson called the vision on the ABC "horrific".

“No living creature should be subjected to the kind of cruelty shown on the program and the Victoria Racing Club fully supports the actions of Racing Victoria to call for a coordinated approach to the care of horses after their racing careers are over," he says. 

Other abuse of horses have previously been reported, such as The Herald Sun’s report on the doping scandal last year, and, more recently, the use of jiggers.

Despite this leading to a decreased appetite for horse racing, brands are staying firm on their partnership with the Melbourne Cup.

Sponsors of the carnival include Lexus, AAMI, Bumble, Bauer’s Harper Bazaar and Elle, News Corp's Vogue, and Twitter. 

Lexus, which is a principal partner, says equine welfare is “non-negotiable” and that it condemns the “inhumane” treatment of horses.

“We have full confidence in the way Racing Victoria and VRC enforce strict rules and demand the highest standards of treatment for horses during their racing careers,” a spokesperson says.

“We commend them for accelerating plans to support the wellbeing of racehorses throughout their lives. Their commitments mean that everyone who attends the Cup Carnival will be contributing to the solution.

“Lexus looks forward to growing its partnership with the VRC and its sponsorship of the Lexus Melbourne Cup.”

Uber, a major partner, also says the welfare of thoroughbreds “before, during and after racing" is a priority for the VRC, the Victorian racing industry and all VRC partners.

Another major partner for the carnival, insurer AAMI says it will always promote the importance of equine welfare.

“AAMI is appalled and saddened by the vision which appeared on the ABC,” a spokesperson says.

“This type of treatment of horses is unacceptable.

“We support the Victoria Racing Club in its call for a coordinated approach to the care of horses even after their racing careers are over, including its recently announced $1 million VRC Equine Wellbeing Fund.”

Pernod Ricard’s Mumm Champagne is marking its 10th year with the Melbourne Cup Carnival, which is the brand’s biggest partnership in Australia.

Eric Thomson, marketing director for Pernod Ricard Australia, says the company has raised concerns about the treatment of horses with VRC.

“We've always been very comfortable with VRC’s position on equine welfare,” Thomson says.

“They're amazing stewards for equine welfare within the marketplace.

"The things that have been uncovered within other parts of the industry is very unfortunate, but we support the VRC’s position on equine welfare and that's something that we're in constant communication with them about from a brand perspective."

Thomson says brands need to constantly monitor the negative attention the Melbourne Cup is attracting, but says Mumm Champagne is continuing its sponsorship over the coming years.

Update: Myer has now provided a statement, saying it’s “appalled” by the ABC footage and is closely monitoring actions taken by authorities.

“We welcome the action being taken by the VRC and Racing Victoria to ensure the welfare of horses on and off the track, particularly through the recently announced VRC Equine Wellbeing Fund," a spokesperson says. 

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus