Bradford Bulls’ major sponsor, Provident Financial, who also have the naming rights to Odsal Stadium, have given their backing to the new owners of the club, while giving up their right to advertise on the front of the Bulls’ playing strip for the 2017 season.
The company’s sponsorship manager Paul Mitchell has explained to League Express his company’s current stance in relation to events at the Provident Stadium.
Mitchell, an incomer to Bradford, also expressed his firm belief that Rugby League is an “incredible product”, having converted to becoming a Rugby League and Bulls fan following the advent of Super League, and then becoming involved professionally in the game when Provident, which became a FTSE100 company in December, first became the main sponsor of the club ahead of the 2013 season.
The new Bradford shirts feature the logo of energy company Utilita. But it was only after Provident agreed to relinquish the shirt branding rights offered to them by new club owners Graham Lowe and Andrew Chalmers that they could strike a deal with the company.
“With the new owners coming in and setting up a new holding company, they had no obligation to honour any rights we had under the old agreement,” Mitchell told League Express.
“But being the honourable people that they are, and understanding our affinity with the club, they gave us the chance to continue pretty much as before under similar terms.
“However, we felt that there was an opportunity for us to help the club as much as we possibly could, while at the same time continuing our partnership and delivering our activities.
“Relinquishing the shirt branding gave the club a great asset, which is very attractive, and we are delighted that Utilita have joined us as a partner of this great club.”
A football fan from the West Midlands, Mitchell previously managed the ticketing and memberships team for Yorkshire CCC.
Provident’s sponsorship of the Bulls marked his first formal involvement in Rugby League, and during the last three years he has seen the club enter into administration twice, before ultimately being liquidated earlier this year.
But Mitchell insists that Provident’s commitment to the sport, and the club, has not wavered, despite the financial turmoil.
“We extended our deal in 2014, after administration and relegation, and our ethos as a business and as a good corporate citizen is to support people in times of need.
“To carry on as a partner of the new ‘phoenix’ club, helping them to establish a sound footing for the long-term, feels like the right thing to do, not to mention our focus on supporting the fantastic fans who have also continued with their own backing over a difficult few years.
“The new owners are real Rugby League men who eat, sleep and breathe the game,” Mitchell continued.
“They love what they do and they do it with so much dedication and passion whilst keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
“They are very smart men, too, always thinking.
“I took Andrew Chalmers and Geoff Toovey on a tour of our offices, telling them all about our business, and Andrew was constantly taking notes and coming up with unique ideas of how to add value to our partnership, delivering benefit to the club as well as to Provident.
“They also believe that home grown talent is crucial to the club’s future, which resonates with me not only as a Bulls fan, but also as a fan of a lower league football club.”
Provident were formerly the main shirt sponsors of Yorkshire Carnegie RUFC, through their Satsuma Loans brand, and are currently a partner of Premier League football club Sunderland and the Bulls’ soccer neighbours, Bradford City.
But the commercial partnership with the Bulls remains the company’s most visible, and Mitchell says the company could consider backing the sport in a more central capacity, such as through the sponsorship of a competition in the future.
“The sport has an incredible product on its hands,” he said.
“I’m a Brummie and fell in love with the excitement, physicality, speed and good old honesty of the game.
“You never know what the future holds, but if the opportunity ever presented itself whereby we could help the game grow beyond its current audience then we would certainly consider it.
“Unfortunately Rugby League fans in the Midlands are few and far between, but I am a firm believer that they don’t know what they’re missing!
“Every sport has the challenge of making their leagues and clubs more attractive to commercial partners – it’s a big part of making the model for the future a sustainable one,” Mitchell continued.
“The RFL has been making every effort, in my experience, to do this.
“They are a great group of people who do things for the good of the game and they have given us all the leeway we need to help further our aims and activities.”
But until any such deal is struck with the RFL, Mitchell says the brand will continue to exploit the benefits of its partnership with one of the sport’s most famous names.
“Sponsorship, for many, means sticking your brand on a shirt or stadium for a certain amount of money, taking the complimentary tickets and hospitality that accompanies any such deal and resting on your laurels for however many years.
“But for us it is quite different. It’s about a partnership that delivers for both the club and Provident.
“It would be daft not to want to get some commercial return from any such deal, and we do through our online content strategy and TV brand exposure.
“That said, we still see this as about also being a good Bradfordian company – supporting a local institution that the people of Bradford love and have a great affinity with – and helping the club to find its feet again.
“Our partnership with the Bulls and, indeed, Bradford City also makes us a little more attractive as an employer to potential new employees – there are a lot of Bulls and Bantams fans working in our city centre office.”
Provident activates its sponsorship through its Supporting Bulls Supporters Facebook page, pre-match activities at the stadium and competitions.
“Fans of other clubs have commented very positively on our Supporting Bulls Supporters activities, some with envy,” said Mitchell.
“The governing body has also been very complimentary about these activities and our continued partnership with the club.”