The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will get a name makeover for its next three seasons, after online dating service Gaydar signed a $1.5-million sponsorship deal.

The festival season will be called Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presented in partnership with Gaydar.com.au.

New Mardi Gras chair Marcus Bourget said the deal was fantastic news for the organisation’s future.

It’s a significant milestone in the history of Mardi Gras, he said.

It allows us to plan with more confidence and more certainty. It allows us to focus on the future and to plan and enter into long-term strategies.

The $1.5 million will not buy Gaydar control over any aspects of the festival, Bourget stated.

Mardi Gras retains full financial and creative control over our events, he said.

The deal could not have come at a better time for New Mardi Gras. In the past few months the community organisation has been forced to implement major cost-cutting and restructuring due to a series of financial setbacks, including a $304,000 loss following the 2005 season and a shortfall in ticket sales to the last Sleaze party.

Part of the money would be used to reverse some of the budget cuts made this year, Bourget said.

But the large majority of it is going to be put away to one side to allow us to figure out how we’re going to use it in the long term in a strategic sense to secure the future of the organisation.

More sources of revenue still needed to be raised, however, so plans for gold coin donations to enter Fair Day and Launch were likely to go ahead.

The issue of selling naming or presentation rights has been a divisive one within the gay and lesbian community, with some believing it would overly commercialise the festival.

The idea was floated after the 2005 season, but most of the current New Mardi Gras board spoke against it in the lead-up to this year’s board elections in June. At the time Bourget argued selling naming rights was very much a last resort. However, after Sleaze he said the subject needed to be reconsidered because it provided such an obvious way of raising funds.

Speaking to the Star this week, Bourget said he was confident the community would understand why it had to be done and would react positively to the news, particularly following the outcome of a community consultation meeting on the issue in October.

I was really heartened after the community consultation, that people seemed to be behind the idea of presentation rights, he said.

One of the clear things that came out of the consultation was that people wanted the concept to be handled sensibly and properly, and we took that feedback into our negotiations. So I think it’s a great result for everyone.

Bourget was particularly pleased that the two biggest commercial sponsors of the festival, Gaydar and GAL (Gay and Lesbian Home Loans), were gay and lesbian organisations.

UK-based company QSoft Consulting owns and operates Gaydar, which includes the websites Gaydargirls, GaydarRadio, GaydarTravel and RainbowNetwork.

Gaydar is the number one gay and lesbian dating site in Australia, with 52 percent of the market share during the month of October, QSoft marketing director Trevor Martin said.

Martin said the deal with New Mardi Gras presented the perfect opportunity for Gaydar.com.au to invest directly back into the community that made us the successful company we are today.

From a commercial standpoint we believe this sponsorship agreement will afford us the opportunity to showcase our brand alongside the most important gay and lesbian brand in Australia.

While Gaydar has sponsored many gay and lesbian events across the globe, the New Mardi Gras deal certainly supersedes any of our previous partnerships, Martin said.

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