Business Irish

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Rugby sponsors line out for World Cup

At the
of O2's
with the IRFU
were rugby
players and O2
Paul O'Connell
and Jonathan
At the announcement of O2's renewed sponsorship with the IRFU were rugby players and O2 brand ambassadors, Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Jonathan Sexton

THE Rugby World Cup is still a month away but it has already started off the pitch with the business community getting its ducks in a row (to quote Eddie O'Sullivan) before the tournament.

Mobile phone group O2 is perhaps the most visible company when it comes to Irish rugby and after renewing its sponsorship deal with the team, it is now rolling out its advertising plans for the month ahead.

O2's marketing director in Ireland, Jonnie Cahill, told PostScript that the values associated with the rugby team, rather than on pitch performance, was the main driving force behind the firm's partnership with the IRFU.

"Obviously it's great for us when the team wins and is performing well but we treat that as a bonus more than anything.

"If you predicate a partnership on success on the field then you are going to have a pretty short-term partnership in my opinion. Sport is cyclical and a team that is successful today may not be tomorrow. You only have to look at the rugby team to see that.

"The last World Cup wasn't a great success on the pitch but then we had the Grand Slam two years later so these things come and go.

"The big attraction for us is the values the team espouses and the marketing opportunities that come with that. The honesty, integrity and work ethic of the players is something that appeals to our branding," said Mr Cahill.

Rugby is in a funny position when it comes to sponsorship. Since the advent of the World Cup in 1987, it has become the centrepiece of the international calendar, with most teams now planning their four-year cycle with a view to peaking for the tournament, and this provides complications for any company partnering with a team.

For 47 out of 48 months of the cycle, O2 can be plastered across the front of the players' jerseys but for the tournament itself, the jerseys have to be sponsor free.

"Obviously we'd like to have our name on the jersey for the tournament," said Mr Cahill. "But the key thing is we know this is happening long before the World Cup so we can plan our marketing strategies around that.

"The IRB [rugby's governing body] has mandated that sponsors' names can't be on the match jerseys so we have to come up with different strategies to get our name out there."

Those strategies include sponsoring RTE's coverage of the tournament this year and spending heavily on the pre-tournament warm-up matches, with the first home game against France on Saturday.

"We all loved the old Lansdowne Road but the Aviva is much more user-friendly in marketing terms and we will also be using our brand ambassadors -- Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Johnny Sexton -- more visibly.

"The England game next week will also see the team wear the logo for O2's new money card, reflecting our move into financial services as well," Mr Cahill added.

The growth in Irish rugby continues, and O2 looks to be backing the right horse at the moment. Now, if only the company could produce two back-up props for Cian Healy and Mike Ross ...

Connacht drives on with Mazda

'POSTSCRIPT' has a distinct rugby theme this week, and O2 has not been the only company working hard in the rugby space.

Connacht has also renewed its sponsorship deal with Mazda, while the Rugby World Cup computer game gets ready for its launch next week.

HB Studios has secured the rights, with the game promising to "capture perfectly national rivalries, player personalities and venues".

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