With the addition of the two teams from South Africa the 2017/18 Guinness PRO14 has had a higher profile launch than in previous years.
Sport for Business has been talking to each of the four provinces in Irish Rugby to determine what they have been up to in the run up to the weekend’s big start and how the year ahead looks like it will be.
Previously we spoke with Marcus Ó Buachalla, Communications Manager at Leinster Rugby, and Brian Mahony, Head of Commercial and Marketing at Connacht Rugby. Today it is the turn of Fiona Hampton, Head of Sales and marketing at Ulster Rugby.
What are the main changes that have taken place at Ulster over the course of the summer?
It has been a busy summer at Ulster with a new coaching ticket landing in July, which saw the arrival of Jono Gibbes, Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundan to the Ulster set up under Director of Rugby Les Kiss.
We also saw the arrival of a handful of new players including John Cooney, Jean Deysel, and Schalk van der Merwe. The sales and marketing team have been organizing exclusive events for season ticket holders to meet the new coaching ticket and new players.
These events are great pre season events for fans to meet the new players and management and get the low down.
How have things been this summer with the Women’s Rugby World Cup taking up so much effort?
It was a privilege to be involved from bid stage to the delivery of this Tournament. Whilst it certainly increased the workload for the team here at Ulster Rugby, to be able to host the final stages here in Belfast was really exciting and it was all worth it when we saw the final product here at the stadium. The atmosphere was electric.
The team work between Ulster Rugby, the IRFU and World Rugby showed that for the first time a Women’s Rugby World Cup can be hosted by one union but with multiple host cities.
It was the first time the tournament had moved cities and was a great success. Broadcast in over 50 countries and with over 28,000 in attendance over the Semi final and Finals day in Belfast it has certainly put Ulster Rugby and Kingspan Stadium firmly on the map.
What are the key partnerships that you will be activating over the coming months?
We are lucky to have a number of long term sponsors such as Kingspan, Kukri, Bank of Ireland and BT that we continue to work with on their activation plans.
It has equally been refreshing to welcome a number of new sponsors to the fold and to be involved with them as they look to leverage their sponsorships.
We welcome Tobermore as new branded kit sponsor, Deloittes as sponsor of the Ulster Women’s, and Subway as our half-time Mini Rugby and Summer Camp sponsor.
New sponsor Abbey Insurance, sponsors of the Family Stand and the Academy, have some great plans to engage with fans on match nights to enhance the match night experience so look out for their own Mascot, players giving away signed balls post match and 10,000 hand waving flags arriving in stadium.
Heineken will continue to be a key partner around European match nights as they run some brilliant fan pieces featuring some of our local celebrities and players in the Heineken Quarter pre match.
How do you feel the expansion of the Guinness PRO14 will impact on Ulster and the tournament?
The addition of the South African teams I think will really enhance the Championship taking it onto the International League for the first time. The enhanced revenues will certainly help the clubs and the benefits for sponsors who have international reach will be a welcome bonus.
Coming from the Super Rugby set up the Kings and Cheetahs are savvy operators both on and off field so I am looking forward to seeing how the Southern Hemisphere style of rugby enhances the product.
We have a huge South African support here at Ulster so I would expect the atmosphere at these matches to be terrific.
How have season ticket sales gone and what are your hopes for attendance this season?
The Ulster faithful have once again showed their support to the team with almost 10,000 season tickets currently sold. With top of the league average attendances last season of around 15,800 we are confident that with the new conference structure in the Championship that our average attendance will be over 16,000.
What are the things on your desk at the end of August that you are most excited about for this season?
Sitting on my desk are some business plans around how we maximize the opportunity that RWC 2023 will bring should Ireland be successful with their bid.
With Kingspan Stadium being one of the designated venues on the short list we have been working on some plans internally that can really maximise what will be an unbelievable opportunity for the whole of Ireland. I can’t wait till November. It will be seismic.
Ulster Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Munster Rugby and Connacht Rugby are among the more than 220 organisations that play an active part of the Sport for Business community.