Tuesday 23 January 2018

Kate Rowan: Not just any school reunion – Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton

Kate Rowan

Dear Marketing Gurus of a certain sports brand baring a three stripe motif,

Do you remember that advertisement you made in 2003 promoting cross-code harmony involving David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson having a kick about?

A decade on, if you have not already thought of recreating this sporting buddy mini-movie of sorts with two of the most high profile stars in their respective sports of 2013, I will give you a hint.

Back around the time Beckham and Wilkinson were kicking it for the cameras, two of your current brand ambassadors were kicking soccer balls about on their school five-aside team at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff.

It has been well established in the media that the world’s most expensive footballer Gareth Bale and British and Irish Lions series winning captain Sam Warburton were schoolmates.

Even Spanish football daily newspaper Marca pointed out this particular connection such is the current fervour surrounding Bale in his newly adopted homeland, talking about the Welsh passion for rugby and describing Warburton as “a man-mountain”.

A less spoken about link, is that both are brand ambassadors for Adidas. Now, that is the perfect excuse to get an advertising campaign ready in time for Christmas, just as sports fans start to reminisce on the high and lows of 2013, which the pair are bound to star in.

Almost two weeks have passed since Bale’s record transfer to Real Madrid was announced and the money is still grabbing the headlines.

The 24-year old football player, Real Madrid and those in charge of managing his image will no doubt be keen to paint him in a more human light in order not to alienate fans who jaws are still dropped at the thoughts of a €100 million transfer fee and £300,000 per week.

Part of the Real Madrid culture encourages players to be ambassadors for the club. Today, this is about more than being a good role model but also promoting brands that the club are allied with. Adidas are, of course, Real Madrid’s kit supplier.

So, if Bale was to join old teammate Warburton on a shoot for the campaign in their alma mater’s playing fields larking about with both balls of the round and oval varieties, we would see both player’s down to earth natures hopefully causing that €100 million elephant on the pitch to fade somewhat.

The advertisement would be mutually beneficial. Warburton and rugby would be put in a global shop window to a new audience. Actually, the Cardiff Blues flanker could be the real winner in terms of exposure.

Consider that the Real Madrid winger has over 1.52 million Twitter followers, where as the rugby star has a comparably measly 131,268. Bale having almost 12 times more people followers just shows what a long way professional rugby has to go in the global popularity stakes.

Even that, though, does not justify £15.6 per year salary for one player. Warburton’s Cardiff Blues and the three other Welsh regions each currently have a £3.5 million salary cap for the combined earnings of each squad.

So, with the £14 million at combined disposal for the four regions for the year – there would be a shortfall of £1.6 if they had to pay Bale at his current rate!

With the footballer occupying so many column inches and having to deal with the pitfalls of such a high profile, it has been suggested that he could give his old classmate a few hints in how to handle fame.

This suggestion was put forward by journalists in the aftermath of Warburton hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons being sent off in the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final against France for that tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.

Now, after a successful Lions Tour Warburton could perhaps become a sounding board for the €100 million man. Despite, Bale’s sky high profile, there would be no man better than the openside to give a few tips in being “ambassadorial” if that is what Real are looking for.

From the Lions squad announcement where he was named as captain to the culmination of the tour in Australia, it was visible how as well as his rugby exploits, Warburton could be seen to grow in terms of his ambassadorial duties for the Lions.

Whether it was the increased amount of media responsibilities or the likes of representing the Lions at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra or commercial engagements, it was clear to see how he made the role his own.

Money makes the world and sports ball go around. But if you really want to sell something, you need people to believe in it and that is where two relatable sportsmen who still have strong links with their home place works.

For a moment the sports fan will forget about all the pounds and euro and will connect with the story of where it all began.

That contrast of that glimpse of intimacy between stars and the huge financial cogs working behind the scenes can at times seem strange. It may seem cynical as a way of selling a product but that is the reality of modern professional sport. Who knows how the Bale-Warburton success of 2013 could inspire the future stars of 2023?

This week, Gareth Bale and Real Madrid colleague Cristiano Ronaldo’s “€200 million handshake” is the money shot but keep an eye out in the future for an extraordinary school reunion of sorts.

Online Editors

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