Friday 24 November 2017

Brand wars: Will the ad spend migrate from rugby to soccer?

Articulate: Paul O'Connell
Articulate: Paul O'Connell
John Meagher

John Meagher

On June 13, Ireland failed to beat Scotland in Dublin in what was seen as a must-win game for qualification for France 2016. Many of those who poured out of the Aviva stadium that evening surely thought the remainder of the campaign was a lost cause.

In the branding world, however, the attention was already centred on another Irish team - Joe Schmidt's rugby squad. With the World Cup approaching, they were seen as the northern hemisphere's best placed to reach a final - and even win it.

Fast-forward six months and everything has changed. Martin O'Neill's men have qualified for the Euros while the rugby team have been left wondering about what might have been following their dismissal in the quarter finals by Argentina. Furthermore, Leinster and Munster have failed to recapture former glories.

Sponsorship specialist Kelli O'Keeffe believes most of the sports spend will go to soccer next year, but insists that rugby remains a highly attractive draw for brands.

"We're a nation of sports lovers and we like to jump on the bandwagon, too, so the World Cup will be forgotten about if we do well in the Six Nations."

Liam Gaskin, a sponsorship consultant who has previously worked with such figures as former Ireland football manager Mick McCarthy, believes rugby internationals are appealing because of their perceived accessibility.

"They're living in Ireland and you'd see them out and about," he says. "They're good value for money and, remember, they wouldn't be paid anything like the salaries a footballer would get - even those in middle-ranking, second-tier clubs - so they're far more likely to take the offers that are made to them."

Another sponsorship specialist, who does not wish to be named, says that rugby's attachment to affluent Ireland will ensure that it's always of interest to brands.

"The IRFU might like to talk about how the game is making strides outside its traditional enclaves," he says, "but many still perceive it as a sport loved by privileged people with lots of money to spend. I thought Range Rover's sponsorship of TV3's World Cup coverage was a perfect fit - it's the guy in Foxrock with the kids in Blackrock College who's in the market for a €100,000 SUV, and aligning yourself to rugby makes sense. Lots of luxury brands want to get behind the oval-ball game and they just aren't interested in football because, rightly or wrongly, it's still thought of as a working-class sport.

"The other thing about rugby players like Paul O'Connell (pictured) is how articulate they are. They work perfectly with brands - I thought Paulie's campaign with the National Dairy Council was superb - and I'm not sure how many footballers in the current squad appeal in that sort of way. There aren't many household names, beyond Robbie Keane and John O'Shea."

Gaskin adds: "Several of the rugby players transcend their sport, but for large sections of the population, they would be unable to pick members of the Irish football team out of a line-up. They just haven't transcended their sport like previous players have done." Maybe that will change pending performances in France next summer.

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