Earlier this week we reported on the new five-year partnership between Irish Rugby and Energia. The deal places the brand in the top rank of sporting sponsors and incorporates the designation as Official Energy Partner as well as title sponsorship of the All Ireland Leagues in the Men’s and Women’s game.
It’s a significant deal for the sport and for Energia so we sat down with Managing Director Gary Ryan to discover a little of the background to how it came about and what we can expect in terms of support and activation.
The League has been sponsor free since Ulster Bank stepped away in 2018. When did the discussions take shape about you expanding the role you already have with Leinster rugby onto the national stage?
The conversation began around six months ago. Having come on board with Leinster in March 2018 we saw the Rugby space as a natural one for us. The Official Energy Partner status was a reflection of we have grown and the reaction we were getting through Energia Park and Leinster was very positive.
We were looking to get involved in another partnership and the link with community rugby through the AIL League as well as the National team via the IRFU was one that we felt was right.
You’ve moved quickly then from no involvement to being a major player.
Well, Energia has been around for 40 years. We moved into the business sector then in 2014 we started in residential and we have grown apace.
As an All Ireland business was Rugby’s status in a similar position important?
Yes, that’s attractive to us. We are an all-island business and the energy market works on an all-island basis so there is a real synergy there.
Being able to apply the same activation strategy at Malone or Banbridge as we will at Cork Con or Clontarf provides a consistency that will make the effort we put into the Leagues more apparent and universal.
Was it comfortable expanding from what was a solo relationship with Leinster onto the national stage with the IRFU. It’s all one family but was there any ‘sibling’ tension?
We obviously discussed what we were doing but it’s very complementary and it doesn’t impact on the investment or the energy that we are still putting into the Leinster rugby partnership.
We can build the brand through all the different levels and there will be a lot of synergy that will benefit the clubs, the provinces and the sport as a whole.
Will there be a move towards helping clubs with their own energy needs as part of the deal?
The benefits for us are in recognition. We are still a relatively new brand but there is also a real community perspective here.
Promotion of the League is the first priority but we will be looking at energy costs and plans as well as their efforts in terms of sustainability goals.
We will be there as partners and helping them to understand storage and new products in terms of energy generation.
There is also a big piece of work we can help with in terms of social media activation. We have a strong team and we are looking at creating a package of supports that clubs can take up.
We are looking at capturing moments of the week through the league and at clubs so that we can mutually help each other to put the best picture out there of rugby’s role in the community.
The inclusion of the AIL Women’s League is important. It’s never had a sponsor and this association is seen as a big step internally among players and clubs. Was it always going to part of the deal?
We wanted it to be in there. The success that we have seen in terms of Women’s Rugby, albeit with challenges, is there to be built on.
The story of inclusion across the sport has come very much to the fore and it is an area that we want to be there to help with.
You come across as a very willing and active partner. Is it important to feel that you are really part of the team.
It’s not about the badging or the branding. That’s just one element but we are in this at a deeper level.
We want to know where the clubs and the IRFU see the League in three and five years time and then to explore how wwe can help them get there.
The game is changing with more players going straight into the Academies but there are less than 200 professional players so where does everyone else play. We need a strong club structure, just as in other sports and we want to play our part in making that happen.
Now that is the responsibility of the IRFU but we feel that there is an obligation on us, one that we want to embrace, to bring the plans to life in as good a way as we can.
What will some of the activation plans look like?
We are working on those at the momemt. There wil be a number of pilot programmes to see what works on a club by club basis and then expand the ones the waork best.
The amount of voluntary contribution that goes into clubs is immense. We want to see how we can listen to what they need and how we can help. Without it the whole thing does not work and we can’t step in as a magic solution to all their issues but we can make a start and see where the added value can be most effective.
Loyalty and Reward is important for your rivals in the sector, is that going to be a pig part for you in the rugby space?
It is. Seeing what we can do to add value for our customers and create experiences that ties them to us is going to be a part of what we develop.
How has Energia Park been for you?
It is such a busy stadium and it has been really strong in terms of awareness. Having the Guinness Six Nations Women’s home games is great but there is so much activity there almost every day. It’s a ten-year deal we have there and it’s a big part of our marketing thinking.
Finally we have the rugby World Cup coming up. Will you be involved in any of the build up?
It’s exciting as a sponsor and as a sports fan. We have a series of content in production that will tie us to the team and the preparation and as a partner of the team that will have the eyes of the nation upon them it’s going to be an exciting time.
That’s the real strength of this partnership, that it touches on every level of the game. We are looking forward to being involved.
Energia are one of the many Sport for Business members that are involved in Rugby across the island of Ireland.