Posted 17 January 2013 - 02:28 PM
RFL `Forced Into a Corner` in Sponsorship Chase
In Todays Edition of Running Rugby Magazine
Just two weeks to go before the start of the rugby league season and the identity of the new sponsors of the Super Leagueand Challenge Cup have still to be revealed.
Running Rugby understands that theRugby Football League (RFL) will make some form of announcement within the next week but the continuing uncertainty so close to the start of the season is leading to questions being asked about their sponsorship strategy.
It’s six months since it was made known that the Super League agreement with the Stobart Group (the haulage company was given title sponsorship status without paying a penny in return because it offered free exposure on its fleet of trucks) would finish after just one season but we are no closer to finding out which entity will take over the branding.
Potential riches from betting giant Betfair were passed over a year ago in what has become widely regarded as a strategic error which would appear to have had a knock-on effect on subsequent negotiations. A source has told Running Rugby that companies who have seen the RFL settle for a non-monetised deal are unwilling to commit to the kind of sums the governing body is chasing and therefore potential sponsors are stretching talks closer and closer to deadline.
Engage Mutual Assurance, who backed the Super League for seven seasons, were reported to have paid over one million pounds per season when their deal concluded in 2011.
“When a company and a rights-holder enter into negotiations for a sponsorship deal they both need to ask themselves where would the partnership fit into their values and mission statements. Quite apart from the structure of the deal, Stobart was never really a good fit for rugby league,” an industry insider told Running Rugby.
“Normally sponsorship deals are sorted out well in advance of the new financial year so companies know the commitment they are making not just for that year but usually for a three-year programme. January/February is really a bit late. There is sometimes a window just before March if companies are looking for tax relief but it doesn’t happen very often.”
Engage were the longest-running sponsors of Super League, with their predecessors being Stones Bitter (1996-97), JJB Sports (1998-99) andTetley’s Bitter (2000-2005).
We are also still waiting for news on sponsorships for the Challenge Cup – plus partnerships for the forthcoming World Cup.
Rugby League’s family-friendly image, fast-paced action, community values and TV exposure, with deals running through to 2016 with both BSKyB and theBBC, would appear to be trump cards to put on the negotiating table but no agreement has been found.
James Mercer, the RFL’s commercial director who joined the organisation in April, told Running Rugby in October that there is “lots of interest from a lot of different brands” and that there would be “a string of announcements to make before the end of the year (2012).”
It appears that companies are pushing the RFL to the brink before reaching any agreement.
The industry insider added: “There will be a lot of tough questions asked: `What do we get out of it? Will any deal be of a high enough profile? What kind of kudos would we gain from it? What is the right level of expenditure?` The RFL seems to have been pushed into a corner.
“Companies will be doing their research not into what rugby league can do for them, but how their involvement would impact on their business. In a recession it would be a tough deal to crack.”
Sponsor-less major sporting properties are few and far between, and normally they are left without a title backer for a firm strategic reason. Wimbledon, The Open and Royal Ascot do so because their brand heritage is so strong and there is a feeling that a lack of a title sponsor keeps the events `special`. At a push, the RFL could get away with this for the Challenge Cup – undoubtedly the most historic British club competition in either code – with its Wembley final covered on terrestrial television by the BBC providing a valuable point of difference.
Football’s UEFA Champions League has a small family of partners who are said to provide many more millions than would be forthcoming from one over-arching sponsor. This is a view that the RFL could take for Super League if no agreement can be found with a single sponsor, and it is the strategy being aimed at for the World Cup.
The RFL could cut and run without a title sponsor but, aside from the lack of finance, the perceived view from the outside of a competition unable to tie down a major brand name would seem to be a backward step.