Wednesday 17 January 2018

Leinster rugby's blue army is one million strong. So how will they all fit in the redeveloped RDS?

Paul Dermody, Head of Commercial & Marketing at Leinster Rugby tells John McGee about the club's off-pitch ambitions

Paul Dermody, Head of Commercial & Marketing at Leinster Rugby. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Paul Dermody, Head of Commercial & Marketing at Leinster Rugby. Photo: Steve Humphreys

John McGee

Defeat to Connacht in the Pro12 final two weeks ago, marked the end of a disappointing season for Leinster Rugby - but with the new season only months away, it's business as usual for the four-time Heineken Cup winners.

With a staff of nearly 100 (excluding players who are contracted centrally with the IRFU), bills and wages have to be paid, tickets have to be sold and sponsors have to be dealt with. And then there's the proposed €25m redevelopment of the RDS Arena, which will add extra capacity for home matches as well as a range of options when it comes to corporate hospitality and match-day events.

For Paul Dermody, Leinster Rugby's Head of Commercial and Marketing, the next few years will be very busy as the club juggles with its financial commitments in a bid to close the widening gap between it and some of the better-funded European clubs in France and England.

Meanwhile on the pitch, Leinster's pipeline of young players looks very exciting and any future successes will almost certainly contribute to its strong brand equity and of course its coffers.

"We see ourselves as a small organisation with big ambitions to grow both the Leinster brand and the fan base significantly over the next number of years. From a marketing perspective, we've already put in place the commercial and brand structures and now we want to really start building on the USP of rugby and the strong assets that we have to have. Rugby has never been more popular in Ireland and support for Leinster is growing," says Dermody.

"We are also targeting a very strong demographic and one that many brands would kill for in terms of the number of high net worth individuals, the family focus and support across the province of Leinster, and not just Dublin," he says.

With match-day ticket sales accounting for a substantial proportion of club revenues the challenge for the club is to grow its fan base and convert the fickle and the fair weather supporters into becoming regulars, while also engaging with those who are just armchair fans in the hope that they will one day make a trip to the RDS Arena.

The number of Leinster fans that are out there is surprising, says Dermody.

"We did some research for the first time in the last couple of years to help us define the support base and we found that there was over 1m people on the island of Ireland who claim to be supporters of Leinster. That's phenomenal.

"So from the 1m supporters right down to the 12,000 season ticket holders, we have a plan for each segment of the funnel," he says.

"Starting from the bottom, we need to make sure that the existing 12,000 ticket holders have the best value proposition and the best experience possible," he says.

"Further up the funnel is the casual supporter who might dip in once or twice a year, typically for one of our games in the Aviva Stadium, when we can get up to 44,000 on a match day. The key objective is to maintain the popularity of these games but also convert some of them and get them to come down to the RDS more often."

Then there's the armchair supporters who still need to be targeted and engaged with through the club's website, its social media channels, apps and merchandising, he says.

As part of the overall package, season-ticket holders benefit from a range of different things like access to training sessions, guaranteed seating, payment plans, discounts on merchandise, match-day events, including player meet and greet sessions, as well as other events that the club organises throughout the season.

Given rugby's strong connections with the corporate world, Dermody says there's still untapped potential in the market and the club recently appointed a business development executive to the marketing team to explore all its options. With plans to develop the RDS Arena and have it open for the start of the 2018-2019 season, the proposition will be a lot more tantalising.

"We are in partnership with the RDS in terms of developing the arena and it's going to be a step change for everything Leinster does from a commercial marketing perspective. Overall, it's going to be a fantastic venue in a prime location and we're very excited about it," says Dermody.

The other main source of income for Leinster comes from sponsorship. With Bank of Ireland as its main sponsor, the club has also bagged the likes of Canterbury, Laya Healthcare, Guinness, Wolf Blass and CityJet. In addition to these, brands like Life Style Sports, BDO, Best Menswear, Windsor Motors and Beauchamps Solicitors have also formed commercial relationships with the club.

"We've had commercial sponsorship model in place now for two years. The purpose of it was to actually redefine the role and relationship we have with all our sponsors. We wanted to work with fewer brands but work with them at a deeper level that we had before. We try and find out from them what their specific corporate sales and brand objectives are and how Leinster can help them get there," says Dermody.

"And thankfully, it's working out really well for us and our sponsors and partners," he adds.

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