Geraldine O’Leary of RTÉ spoke at the Onside Sponsorship event on Wednesday of the difficulties that arose around the station’s coverage of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
RTÉ broadcast 14 matches from the tournament. The coverage was supported by Bank of Ireland with a contribution that made all the difference in the national broadcasters ability to bring the games to a wide national audience.
Viewership figures were strong with a peak average number of 766,000 for the New Zealand Quarter Final defeat. This was backed up by 882,000 live streams across Ireland’s five game stay at the tournament, also sponsored by Bank of Ireland.
World Rugby, in common with other supranational organisations have a clause which states that Broadcast sponsorship must first be offered to the global partners of the tournament. In Japan this included Heineken, Mastercard, Land Rover, DHL, Emirates and Societie Generale, the French bank.
None of these were in a position to sponsor RTÉ’s coverage here but a secondary rule in World Rugby’s regulations also prevented broadcasters from taking sponsorship from rivals of the big six in their categories.
This ruled out Volkswagen who sponsored the Irish Times coverage, Aer Lingus, an Irish Rugby sponsor themselves and other potential backers.
Technically Bank of Ireland would also have been excluded but a special dispensation was granted as a result of Societie Generale not marketing specifically within the Irish marketplace.
ITV and STV which had coverage rights in England and Scotland had a shared broadcast sponsorship between tournament partner Land Rover and insurance aggregator Confused.com.
Even in that case the cost of activation on an exclusive basis might have been seen as too much for the car brand.
If AIG for example had been a global partner as opposed to just for the All Blacks, then the insurance category would have been closed off as well.
Samsung sponsored the eirSport coverage which showed all the matches in Ireland.
It is a high stakes game to bid for rights and in the stretched circumstances currently being felt by RTÉ and other broadcasters, playing for sponsorship with one hand tied behind their back is a risk factor for having the coverage reach the widest possible audience.
That’s the point where bodies like World Rugby will have a call to make on whether they take in all the revenue from sponsorship on their own, at risk of compromising it’s very value, or whether they give a little back in order to secure that value.
It’s complex but it’s not something that is going to go away.
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