With the Guinness PRO14 getting the rugby season underway at the weekend, Sport for Business has been out and about talking to the provinces of Ireland about what the season ahead holds off the pitch.
This morning we bring you news from the West in the words of Connacht Rugby Head of Commercial and Marketing Brian Mahony
The big deal over the summer was the deal with Bank of Ireland. How do you envisage that coming to life over the season?
Yes, we’re delighted to once again team up with Bank of Ireland as Official Banking Partner. We have a very strong relationship with both the national leadership and the regional team on the ground here in Connacht. Obviously as a kit partner, the Bank will be present on all our playing and training jerseys as they launch throughout the next two months.
Bank of Ireland also hosted a selection of clients and partners at our opening match against Glasgow this weekend. While I probably can’t share too much right now we’ve had numerous very productive meetings with the BOI sponsorship team and we’re looking forward to some great activations over the coming season.
As partners Bank of Ireland have also been very supportive is assisting our new players and staff get set up when they arrive to Connacht and have eased their transition, so they can focus on performing at their best.
The switch in TV coverage will take time to sink in among fans. Do you anticipate any impact on attendance as a result of all games being covered live on eir?
We’re extremely excited about the coming season. For the first time all 152 games will be televised and we think this is a really positive move. We see TV exposure as a driver of attendance, rather than a detractor. For one reason or another fans can’t always make a game, so having the ability to watch the action on TV is a real plus. We’re confident supporters still seek the unique experience of visiting the Sportsground and watching the games in person. We play an exciting brand of rugby so the more opportunities people have to see this, it may encourage a new audience to attend their first match.
This season all the majority of our games will be broadcast on TG4 and we’re delighted that our games will also be widely available on free-to-air TV. We’ve been working closely with TG4 to make sure they get the best access we can offer to players and the stadium. We’re looking forward to a really high standard of production and lots of unique content.
How have advance sales been for season tickets and hospitality?
Being candid the calendar this year is very challenging from a fan engagement perspective. We have four home games in the month of September which does pose its issues for fans in terms of their available time.
Also of course we’ve very aware that it’s not easy for everyone to potentially pay for four games from one pay check. Three out of our four games in September are marquee games against Leinster, Glasgow and Scarlets, all champions in the past four years along with ourselves.
September is traditionally a slower month for rugby for all the provinces and so we’re working really hard to re-engage fans for the start of the season. We’ve a very strong above and below the line campaign running for what we’re calling ‘Month of Champions’.
Also, we’re aware that the fixtures we were given may place a financial strain on some families who wish to attend all games, so we’re offering free admission to children for the Zebre game where we have some excess capacity.
Overall however, we’re pleased with how the campaign has been received. Our first game against Glasgow is already about 30% up on sales on the corresponding fixture last year so that’s a good yardstick of the positive sentiment that’s out there. Several areas of the ground are completely sold out with season tickets and match day hospitality demand is strong.
How will the focus on retaining the Grand Slam and heading towards Japan impact on engagement with the Province as opposed to the national team this year?
The great performance of the national team is only a tide that can raise all boats so to speak. Our national players are heroes and deservedly so. Fans who may not have the opportunity to get to an Ireland game will be able to come to our league games and get to watch the international stars in the flesh. Irish rugby is on a high both provincially and nationally and we see this as an opportunity to bring more people into the game at both a supporter and club and community participation level.
What new innovations might we expect in terms of fan engagement from yourselves and sponsors this season?
Already we’ve had a fantastic Season Ticket launch with our title partners Intersport Elverys. We worked really hard together to produce what was a really magical and unique experience for our loyal season ticket holders. We plan a number of these type of fan engagement nights throughout the season. We’ve also been out in the community regularly already this pre-season, bringing the entire team to Ballina for a visit where the local club and indeed most of the town got behind the visit. It was a fantastic opportunity for all the kids to get up close and personal with all the players. We’ll continue these visits throughout the province during the year.
We’ve had PRO14 Final in Dublin last two years. The move back to Scotland will bring back good memories?
Indeed, it does and we’re very hopeful that we’ll be there again this year. We’ve had a really good pre-season and we’re looking forward to getting the season started. It is really exciting to see the PRO14 Final going to Celtic Park which is such a unique and historic stadium. I’d that the Irish teams will be even more determined to play in Celtic’s home ground considering the Irish connection with the club. What an occasion it would be to be there at the end of May!
Any developments on Stadium for this season or beyond?
A key objective of our vision Grassroots to Green Shirts is to deliver “facilities that match our ambition”, and we are as focused on that objective as ever. As part of our stadium development planning we conducted detailed analysis of the economic benefits of a stadium development.
An independent analysis found that the total socio-economic impact of the organisation is in excess of €34m per annum to the local economy. The other important piece of research was a stadium composition study which was carried out by Deloitte. With over 4,000 people and hundreds of businesses surveyed we have a really clear understanding of what patrons and businesses in the region would like a stadium to look and feel like.
So, there is no doubt that the demand certainly exists for a fit for purpose stadium. We are now having really positive discussions with all relevant stakeholders to make this a reality and at this stage we are certainly very hopeful that we will deliver on this strategic goal.
Connacht Rugby retain Intersport Elverys as their principal partner as well as BLK as Official kit Partner. Over the summer they added Bank of Ireland as Official Banking Partner, Future Ticketing as Official Ticketing Partner, The City Bin Company as Official Sustainibility Partner and Total Health Pharmacy as Official Camps Partner.
They also extended partnerships with Heineken, Ronan Daly Jermyn, Irish Distillers limited, Galway Bay FM, Logues, Anthony Ryan and Galway City Council.
Join us tomorrow for the lowdown on Leinster