IRFU deliver to revive feel-good factor
Whatever is happening out in Maynooth as Ireland step up their preparations for the Six Nations, the powers-that-be in Lansdowne Road are certainly playing their part in generating a feel-good factor.
Yesterday's news that the IRFU had secured a bumper sponsorship package with kit suppliers Canterbury follows hot on the heels of their announcement that they had secured all seven of their out-of-contract frontline players on new deals, despite heavy interest from France – it has been a good few weeks for the Union.
While the €20m secured from the new contract will have helped the IRFU secure the likes of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien on improved deals, the fact that the top talent remains in Ireland helps when it comes to attracting sponsors.
It works both ways and the importance of the home-grown players to the success of Irish rugby was a major bargaining chip utilised by agents during the protracted negotiations over the last number of months.
By bringing in such a sizeable deal from the New Zealand brand over the next six years, spanning two World Cups, the IRFU re-confirmed that the sport remains the commercial force in a market that has been squeezed over the past few years of economic uncertainty.
That is shown by the fact that the Union spoke to 19 different manufacturers about replacing Puma after the German company signalled their intent to withdraw prematurely from their €40m long-term deal signed in the aftermath of the 2009 Grand Slam.
Puma shelled out €11.5m to extricate themselves from their contract three years early this summer, with the IRFU also giving themselves plenty of time to bring in a new partner. Puma's decision came from a strategic call to exit the rugby market altogether.
A combination of established brands and new faces made their pitch but it was Canterbury who ticked all three boxes the Union were looking for, according to their commercial director Padraig Power, with the financial package, product and the fact that the brand are known for rugby all fitting the profile.
"It speaks volumes for the brand," Power said yesterday. "The recent survey by Onside Sports showed that rugby remains the most attractive sport for sponsors. The sport's ability to keep our home-grown players in Ireland, giving sponsors access to the top stars for promotional purposes, is a great selling point and helps us manage our commercial opportunities for our partners.
"It's a great deal and it allows us make our plans for the future with long-term certainty in a challenging market."
The deal certainly holds up to scrutiny, even if it is a reduction on the Puma deal which was signed in the wake of the Grand Slam in 2009.
The team's marketability has continued to slide since that year, while the economic climate has hit the coffers at Lansdowne Road as the Union struggled to sell their five and 10-year ticket renewals for the Aviva Stadium, forcing them to operate on a budget deficit and take out a €25m overdraft to cover the shortfall in sales.
Despite that reduction, the deal still towers over all others in the Irish market – which is worth around €125m in total. With the jersey sponsorship deal with O2 worth €2.6m per year on top of the €3.3m per annum Canterbury will provide, the IRFU are earning €1.5m more than the FAI under their current deals with Umbro and 3mobile.
The addition of soccer's managerial 'dream team' will help the FAI when they next go to the market, but the IRFU have kept their noses in front in a difficult market.
The national team's marketability in a shrunken market means that the provinces are fighting for a smaller slice of the pie, as displayed by Munster's reduced deal with Bank of Ireland, who replaced Toyota as sponsors last summer.
Amid increasing uncertainty over the control of the game and with no firm plans in place as to what competitions the players will be playing in next season, the commercial strength of the Irish team is crucial.
As the Union never tire of reminding those listening, the national team's success funds every other part of the game in Ireland, and a long-term deal is a major boost to the coffers.
The team won't begin to wear Canterbury gear until next season's November internationals, but Joe Schmidt stole a march on the rest by sporting one of their hats alongside his Puma jacket during Saturday's Wolfhounds game against England Saxons.
The coach was rolled out for a few snaps yesterday and a quote in a press release, but who manufactures the jerseys his players wear will have little impact on his day-to-day life.
However, the long-term security offered by such a lucrative contract has helped in his mission to keep his top talent in Ireland for next year's World Cup and will help keep his players in the style they're accustomed to as they prepare for the competitions to come.
The commercial side and HR departments have delivered in recent weeks with this deal and the raft of new contracts – now it is over to the men on the field to play their part in the Six Nations.
THE BIG DEALS IN IRISH SPORTS SPONSORSHIP
IRFU deal with Canterbury
€20m over six years/€3.3m per year signed yesterday
IRFU deal with o2
€13m over five years/€2.6m per year signed in 2011
FAI deal with Umbro
€25.6m over 10 years plus performance bonuses/€2.56m per year signed in 2009
FAI deal with 3 mobile
€7.5m over four years/€1.8m per year signed in 2010
Dublin GAA deal with AIG
€4m over five years/€800,000 per year signed in 2013
Munster Rugby deal with Bank of Ireland
€3.5m over five years/€700,000 per year signed in 2013