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 an exclusive chat we had last week with Kevin Quinn, Head of Commercial and Marketing with Leinster Rugby
The biggest deal for Leinster was the new kit, how has that gone?
We have a new five year deal with each of Adidas as kit provider and Lifestyle Sport as retailer and so far that has gone very well. Both have been excellent to work with around the launch and Adidas faced the first big challenge in brilliant fashion.
The jerseys were all printed, embellished and on the high seas when we won our fourth European Champions Cup in May. The addition of a fourth star was essential so it required a team of people in the UK to unpack each of the jerseys and add the star. The process was complex involving adding heat to an already done area but they really stepped up.
The timetable of production with a company like Adidas, especially in a World Cup year must have been a challenge?
It was, of course. The sheer size of the Adidas global operation is staggering. There was no choice but to start the kit manufacture well ahead of winning our fourth star but it was a very high-quality problem to present them with and they faced it brilliantly.
How did ⭐⭐⭐ become ⭐⭐⭐⭐?
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) August 8, 2018
It became a big part of the story.
Then Lifestyle were very innovative in how they launched and how they present the jersey. It has been a great experience working with them both.
How quickly then did you move towards the release of the kit?
We did two periods of pre-order, first for the training kit and then for the kit ahead of our first away game in pre-season, then in store for purchase ahead of the first home game against Newcastle Falcons.
The OLSC representing the supporters were also great around the fourth star. When we had the homecoming at Energia Park they were going around with little gold stickers adding them to kids kits and that really added to both the understanding of the achievement and the sense of the fans being such a big part of it.
It was a great year on the pitch, have you been able to carry that through into the summer?
Yes. Winning the double of the Champions’ Cup and then the Guinness PRO14 was a huge achievement and it sets a very high bar for the new season.
People and fans want to be a part of that. We announced before the start of the season that we had topped 12,500 season ticket sales for the first time in a number of years. For the first time, all of our season ticket seats in the covered stands have sold out. The only remaining ones we had before the start were in the North and South stands.
There will be some covered available on a match by match basis but they are limited because of the demand for the season tickets.
That’s a high proportion of the stadium gone in advance, is there a limit?
We don’t apply a limit on season tickets but there are different numbers that we have to hold back for team sponsors and tournament partners. We are very happy with the response from fans ahead of this season and there will be a very good atmosphere at the ground.
You have your long term deal with Bank of Ireland, is there anything fresh that we can look forward to there?
Gemma Bell came in last season and provided a real spark in terms of how they wanted to deal with us. It was my first full season on board as well and together we learned a lot.
There have been changes at the Bank as well. They have a Chief Marketing Officer for the now at group level and their new approach will filter through to every level of their engagement with Leinster and the fans.
They are very focused on grassroots and community, and keen to see how they can help in terms of leaving behind a legacy. There are simple ways to manifest this but they really matter. When we do an activation at a club for example, they leave behind the gear, balls, equipment, padding, flags. It’s not that they pack it all up and move on. They leave it there for the club and event though it sounds simple it can make a real difference and is appreciated.
The tiered partners have been added to this pre-season as well.
Yes, we signed up BearingPoint as our innovation partner this summer and that’s an exciting addition.
We made a conscious decision over recent years to create a level of partners that would be less in number at a higher value but to whom we could offer more exclusivity, better attachment and affinity as well as better access to players and other assets.
We have six partners at that level now, Energia as our energy partner, Diageo with Guinness, Adidas and Lifestyle on kit and Laya Healthcare in terms of wellness with players and fans.
We have a third level as well and will be renewing with Windsor Motors who did some really imaginative video content last year and have more to come.
Beauchamps Solicitors and the Intercontinental Hotel here in Ballsbridge are at that level as well and we work with each of the partners in a way that works for both of us.
The team is going well, do you find that adds to the demands of and on sponsors to be creative and up their game as well?
For sure, especially when the team is doing well. They want to be part of the added limelight and to look well.
They really want to be involved and not just sitting there as a brand. It generates a lot more work but that’s on us to both create imaginative ideas and to work closely with them in terms of activation.
We had a sponsors forum over the summer looking at ideas which had worked really well and laid down the challenge to us both to match that and step it up again.
We are active with each of our 72 clubs and across all 12 counties. In our social reach, we have the largest English speaking audience across all channels. We have 100,000 followers now on Instagram and that’s where the real growth and innovation is happening now, at the expense of others.
With the stadium, you have secured planning permission now and there is funding from Government to be announced shortly. How quickly would you be looking to move if all the pieces come together?
We are effectively shovel ready. There would be tenders ready to go as soon as we could secure the right funding from the different sources available, including Government.
The plan then would be to start works after our season ends and then to step up with the main works around the Anglesea stand after the RDS Horse Show that summer.
In an ideal world that could be as early as the end of next season.
The PRO14 has seen strong growth over recent years and especially with new TV deals this summer. Will this season see it stepping up again in the eyes of fans?
Each year it has been gathering more attention and more interest among the fans. If you look as a benchmark against the weaker teams there has been real progress. Benetton in particular won matches away from home and they are carrying a greater lustre now when they come to town.
The quality of the presentation teams on eir Sport is really good and the consistency of having a simple proposition for fans to know where games are is important as well.
Is there a danger that with all games televised there might be a hit on matchday attendance?
It’s always a danger but you have to wonder if the armchair supporter is really one that would have bought a ticket. The hope is that bringing the team to as great a number at home will encourage them to sample the live experience and for us to deliver on that once they get to the ground.
Join us later for our conversation with Ulster Rugby