The announcement of Guinness as sponsors of the Six Nations was confirmed on Friday and is now signed and sealed for a period of six years.
It is the first time that the main competition in Northern Hemisphere rugby has been sponsored by an alcohol brand, though the sport itself has been embraced by Guinness and Heineken in particular over more than two decades.
Guinness will invest over €60 million in the rights over the next six year’s and spend the same again in terms of promotion to ensure the association works.
There is no indication yet as to whether this will have an impact on the direct deals it has with the individual unions including the IRFU where it is the official beer partner and the sponsor of the Guinness November Series.
The sponsorship of the Guinness PRO14 Rugby competition was renewed for an additional four years through to 2020.
The promotion of the brand in France will be limited by La Loi Evin which prohibits “Propaganda or advertising in favour of an organisation, service, activity, product or article other than an alcoholic beverage which, by its design, use of a name, trademark, advertising emblem or other distinctive sign, recalls an alcoholic beverage.”
Heineken always overcame this by use of the H Cup branding and a similar approach is likely from Guinness in French markets.
The law references multi national competitions and clears the Aviva Stadium, Twickenham and the other Six Nations stadia to still be branded with Guinness event though the games will be broadcast to France though advances in digital technology may see this change for TV pictures broadcast in France during the lifetime of this agreement.
Such a major deal, allied to Heineken’s coming back on board as title sponsor of the European Champions’ Cup makes more stringent regulation of alcohol sponsorship in sport here in Ireland considerably less likely.
While the GAA is much less dependent and has self imposed its own restriction, whether by rule or general approach, on alcohol and gambling brands, rugby is now more than ever wrapped up in alcohol brands.
The move towards promotion of low or zero alcohol products is already having, and will have an impact on the ways in which the sporting sponsorships are activated, though alcohol action campaigners reacted with dismay to the announcement on Friday.
“This is a very disappointing development – another generation of children to be recruited. This issue remains unresolved despite the progress made with the Public Health Alcohol Act.” said a statement issued over social media by Alcohol Action Ireland.
Our relationship with alcohol has always been a societal rather than a sporting issue first and foremost.
We have always argued that any prohibition on sporting sponsorship without an overall ban on alcohol promotion would only hurt sport and be very limited in the benefits for the national health.
Greater awareness of general health among younger generations has seen a drop in the high levels of relative consumption in Ireland, which can only be a good thing. That this has happened without the need to ban entirely the relationship between brands and sport is something campaigners would never have accepted as being likely in years gone by.
The obligation now is on the sporting bodies and the drinks companies themselves to maintain a stringent approach to promoting with responsibility and to backing this up with alcohol awareness campaigns that use the power which sport has in reaching out to audiences to good effect even if it is not obvious that this will be good for all.