MARKETING MIX: SOAP BOX: How broadcast deals are trying rugby sponsors

The recent withdrawals by both Save & Prosper, long-time sponsor of rugby internationals at Twickenham and other matches, and Pilkington, sponsors of English rugby’s knockout cup, from their high-profile deals marks a shift in the sport’s perceived attractiveness. These announcements follow Courage’s decision to eschew sponsorship renewal of the English leagues - a property now bought by Allied Dunbar.

The recent withdrawals by both Save & Prosper, long-time sponsor of

rugby internationals at Twickenham and other matches, and Pilkington,

sponsors of English rugby’s knockout cup, from their high-profile deals

marks a shift in the sport’s perceived attractiveness. These

announcements follow Courage’s decision to eschew sponsorship renewal of

the English leagues - a property now bought by Allied Dunbar.



A year ago, the focus of marketing money was at club level as the top

clubs entered the new professional era by looking at how they might

increase their sponsorship income to a more remunerative rate. New

sponsorships were announced by clubs such as Harlequins and Richmond.

These brought fresh sponsors to the game, keen to develop and integrate

their respective associations. The value of the new found ’haves’ was

driven up by the attractiveness of new talent and by the clubs’

commercial imperative of funding it.



The double opportunity of Sky’s greatly increased coverage that was also

shown by BBC’s Rugby Special ensured more visibility for more

sponsors.



But Sky has a commercial imperative - increased dish sales - and

exclusivity is increasingly the name of their game. The result: they bid

most money for rugby internationals, RFU and ERP are happy with income,

Sky viewers get great coverage, long term-sponsors are unhappy about

halved TV audiences.



In the past, governing bodies which sold their rights to Sky to provide

money for those they represent have unfairly been accused of

greediness.



Equally unfairly, Sky has been vilified for taking the nation’s crown

jewels out of the display case. Now, sponsors are voting with their

feet.



These withdrawals are significant because top-flight rugby is different

from football with its fans’ weekly Saturday homage. Club rugby attracts

no more than 10% of the best football Premiership attendances - the

hearts of oval-ball fans resting in annual visits to Twickenham,

Murrayfield etc.



If TV access to those big events is denied, the sponsorship value

equation does fall under the spotlight and rights holders of the biggest

events had better ensure that the satellite money they take is

sufficiently greater than the terrestrial bid to counteract the reduced

revenues they will generate elsewhere in the game.



Finally, as far as the new sponsor for Five Nations rugby is concerned,

I would only suggest that there is a way of attracting bigger audience

numbers than the three million estimate of Save & Prosper. Why not, in

addition to the main sponsorship, fund a co-promotion with Whitbread, or

Allied, to drive all those Sky-deprived young men into pubs with dishes

on the relevant Saturday afternoons - an initiative bound to get

audience numbers back into shape. Better still, if one of the brewers/

retailers takes up the sponsorship themselves, and encourages pub

traffic through promotional activity, they probably have a totally

self-liquidating promotion.



Become a member of Campaign from just £78 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content