Rarely has a sponsorship been so steeped in the history of a tournament but the reaction to the return of Heineken to the naming rights lead on the European Cup in Rugby has shown that this is an exception.
The four-year deal will see the tournament renamed as the Heineken Champions Cup from next season. Even the fictional Ross O’Carroll Kelly was moved to celebrate with a tweet saying “Hello Dutchness, my old friend.”
The change signals an about-face from the organisers who four years ago embarked on the search for a multi-sponsor model which included Heineken as one of what was to be a group of six in the same way as the FIFA World Cup or indeed the GAA All Ireland Championships.
Turkish Airlines came on board and both brands have done well out of expanded coverage in what would have been a more crowded space.
There were to be no more brands coming to the top table though and with revenues static and a resurgent Guinness PRO14 snapping at their heels with new deals and expansion, it could have been an optimum time if Heineken chose to play an ace card to say it was back to the naming or a possible farewell.
Turkish Airlines original agreement was to the end of last season’s tournament and there is no word as yet on whether they will renew as an official airline partner or perhaps turn their attention to other sporting properties, including perhaps the 6 Nations. That said there are persistent whisperings that this too might yet be on Heineken’s radar.
The Heineken Cup naming within European Club Rugby had been in place for the best part of two decades and the brand had no desire to exit at the time but political moves from English and French clubs saw a shift in the tournament base from Dublin to Switzerland, and in the sponsorship from one to what was planned to be many.
2018 saw another return to history with Leinster winning the tournament in Bilbao, the first Irish triumph since 2014 when their third win was Ireland’s fifth in seven years.
The tournament is still seen as the peak of European Rugby and attracted aggregate attendances of more than one million fans in each of the past two seasons.
Free to air TV coverage of some games will return for next season with Channel 4 in Britain and TV3 in Ireland having won the right to show one game per round each as well as the knock out stages.
BT Sport, and eirSport in Ireland will have exclusivity on the other matches and this shift is likely to be backed by a significant step up in promotional spend as well.
The tournament’s global reach has also been enhanced by the recent agreement with NBC Sports as rights-holding broadcasters in the USA.
“It is an exciting time for Heineken to return as the main partner to the European Rugby Champions Cup, especially here in Ireland, given the recent success of the Irish teams,” said Maggie Timoney, Heineke Managing Director in Ireland.
“We have substantially developed the Champions Cup over the past four seasons and it is fitting that at such an exciting time for the tournament, we welcome back a world-leading brand in Heineken,” said EPCR Chief Executive, Vincent Gaillard.
“They are steeped in rugby history and inextricably linked with the heritage of European club rugby and we are delighted to be embarking on this journey with their full support.”
“The expansion of the tournament to emerging rugby territories and new cities in traditional strongholds of European rugby provides Heineken with the opportunity to create engaging fan experiences and brings our association with rugby to new audiences throughout Europe,” added Hans-Erik Tuijt, Global Sponsorship Director, Heineken
“Heineken is proud to have had a close association with rugby for over 20 years and we look forward to working alongside EPCR to provide a platform to continue to develop the competition across Europe and beyond.”
The Heineken Champions Cup will further strengthen Heineken’s powerful portfolio of global sports alliances including the UEFA Champions League, Formula 1 and the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Pool Draw for the newly-titled tournament will take place in Lausanne on 20 June.
Image Credit: Dan Sheridan, Inpho Photography