Exclusive Interview with Anne O’Leary

Anne O’Leary 30/5/2016Vodafone is the new sponsor of the Irish Rugby Team and we caught up with CEO Anne O’Leary to dive a little deeper on why she thought is was a perfect partnership.

Sport for Business: What was the inspiration for Vodafone getting involved in this new deal

Anne O’Leary: “We talk about our purpose in Vodafone being to connect people with what matters most to them.”

“Rugby followers and fans are quite unique in terms of the bond they have with the team and the players.”

“We want to connect emotionally more with our customers.  We can connect through devices or plans but this goes deeper.”

“We are respected and trusted as a brand but we also want to be admired.  Rugby is an admired sport and brand.  The people involved in the team and the sport mirror the values we have ourselves in Vodafone so we felt it made perfect sense.”

“We have 2.3 million customers in the Republic of Ireland and of course this is all Ireland which is even better.”

“Todays’s theme is #TeamofUs and that is what we are about, building teams.  It is more than the 15 players on a pitch, it’s the coaches, the managers, the back office staff, everyone who supports them and that is very much in the Vodafone ethos as well.”

“We think its the perfect partnership.”

SfB: You talk about connection but sometimes sports arena’s are less than ideal when it comes to sharing moments.  That is something which you are also addressing today?

AO’L “We’ve announced a multi-million investment enabling the Aviva Stadium and creating better technology for customers. Enhanced 3G and 4G voice and data infrastructure has been put in place so that people can share great moments better than ever before.”

“It has not been as good as it should be up until now, and that is not acceptable any more, so we have acted to make it better.”

“In the Aviva and around the ground, you will now have the experience with mobile on the Vodafone network that you should expect.  It’s about giving you the chance to connect better with the moments that inspire you.”

“And it will work regardless of whether you, as a Vodafone customer are at rugby, soccer or a concert.”

SfB: Vodafone has previously been a major sports sponsor with Manchester United, Cricket, Formula 1 and the Epsom Derby but of late that has become less evident.  Is this a sign of bouncing back into sport?

AO’L: “We make our own local decisions in each market about what works best for our customers.”

“You have to be able to associate with the things that your customers care about.”

“We were looking for a national sponsorship which is key because we are a national brand and we have huge market share and loyalty right across the country.

“It was about the values of the IRFU, the discipline and the focus which is how we like to measure ourselves.”

“It’s also about getting close to the people and the sport that irish people really love.”

“We want to get everybody behind the team, not just the mad, avid rugby fan but the whole of Ireland, even if you are watching the match from home or out and about.”

“Rugby fans have the right demographic from a business perspective.  They are young and old, there are as many female fans as there are male which is very important.”

“Irish rugby and the Irish team are a great asset and how we activate now will be key to the success of the partnership.”

SfB: How is that activation likely to be most obvious?

AO’L: “This is a key area for us.  The first main area was in enabling the connectivity here at the stadium.”

“Now we will be creating content, such as we saw this morning in the digital space which will go beyond what has been there before.”

“We have innovative and exciting plans to bring this to life.  It is certainly a lot more than the logo on the jersey.”

“There will be a lot more experiential and we want to create a unique experience for Irish rugby fans and our customers.”

“It’s a real partnership so we will be working with the IRFU to help them become a better business and we will learn from them too.”

SfB: You’ve mentioned women fans as important, does this deal extend to the Women’s team as well?

AO’L: “We are the official network partner to the Women’s team and that’s great and we are fully supportive but they have an existing strong partner in Aon so we will work alongside them to help them be as good as they can be.”

SfB: How important is the wider appeal of rugby given that Vodafone is now so much more than just a mobile phone company?

“We do mobile and fixed, we have a joint venture with ESB bringing fibre to every home and business in Ireland and we have recently launched Vodafone TV.”

“Content is important in that area as is the idea of ‘owning the home’ and providing the services that people want.”

“We will look at how we can provide through home TV’s, but also through mobile and online.

“We are looking to create a gigabit society in Ireland where people are connected wherever and however they wish to be.

“We are the biggest provider of business networks in Ireland and we realise Rugby has a huge appeal among the business audience.  We might look to introduce business customers to people like Joe Schmidt in areas of leadership and see where that brings us.”

SfB: You are a keen sportswoman yourself, competing in triathlon and ironman, have you ever tried your hand at Rugby?

AO’L: “I haven’t, but maybe I should.”

“I was a swimmer as a child and was doing a Beara cycle at the weekend which was amazing.”

“I’ve not much time to do any more but I love watching and maybe I will do a few practice sessions before too long.”

Anne O’Leary is one of those included in the Sport for Business list of the 50 Most influential Women in Irish sport, in association with Liberty Insurance.

Influential Women in Sport 2016



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