When Littlewoods Ireland came on board with the All Ireland Hurling Championship last year there were a few raised eyebrows about how a primarily fashion led retail brand could tie itself effectively to the traditional heartlands of hurling.
The eyebrows quickly switched from quizzical to impressed as the brand kicked off a #StyleofPlay campaign that scored very well on social media, among the players and in the bottom line of sales to an Irish audience celebrating our sporting talents and wanting to look good at the same time.
Heading into year two of the partnership, Littlewoods announced last week that they were reaching out deeper to clubs and communities this year while retaining many of the elements in #StyleOfPlay that has given such a positive feel to last year.
Amid the spray cans of a graffiti led photo shoot and a sprinkling of GAA stars we sat down with Sponsorship Executive Pippa Doyle to get the lowdown on how 2018 was going to be activated.
Year two moves from finding your feet to making your involvement as a sponsor deeper, is that a fair way to look at your involvement?
As soon as year one ended we were so excited for what we could do this year. We had learnt so much about how the season works, what we could do across a small team to really make it work.
We looked at what we felt worked well and were determined to try harder again to make it work better.
#StyleOfPlay continues into year two. It’s our DNA and it works best when the hurling and the fashion are married together. They definitely are not mutually exclusive as some had thought.
It’s a very clear point of differentiation for us and it worked really well.
Did that include from a revenue perspective last year?
In every way. We made sure to introduce pieces from our V by Very range whenever our ambassadors were out and about and people really liked what they saw.
There was a significant uplift in sales last year with sportswear alone up by 28 percent and that can be almost wholly down to the Hurling sponsorship.
We expected a rise in awareness but we also smashed through in terms of search results which we can equate to a very healthy additional sales cycle from may through September. It’s a lift we didn’t have before.
How big a part of your overall marketing last year was influenced by the Hurling partnership?
We knew that it was working and we introduced new products including football boots that we saw creating real interest. We used products as part of our Littlewoods Ireland fashion Blog and people were really interested.
The hurling posts we put up were consistently among the best performing through the summer.
Our social media followers just love Austin Gleeson. Whatever he wore became an instant hit. They liked any suit he wore and especially if he was wearing a blue shirt.
What kind of content worked best for you?
We married the two sides through content features like our ‘Five Minutes With…’ series where we asked players whether they were into style, what their own particular likes were in terms of how they look and what they wear.
The players are young adults and they like to look good. It also included what their favourite movies and TV were, what their best cheat meal is and the kind of things which resonate with young fans and give a rounded picture of the players.
The players’ suits that they wore to the All-Stars were really big sellers.
You work across both Camogie and Hurling, does one drive more than the other?
We study the breakdowns closely. Our main customer profile is female and a mother so we focus a lot on family, but the breakdown of hurling fans is 51 percent male and 49 percent female.
Men are more influenced by what they see and that follows through in terms of sales. My own Dad really liked the range that Bernard Brogan was wearing and I bought him a few pieces and he loved them.
So what are the elements we will see more of this year?
The Style of Play piece will be more immediate this year and focused on a written piece rather than waiting for clip rights. Smart sharing of the GAA Now social media gives us visuals but it is closer to the actual game and goes up live each Monday.
Creating the Style Wall is something we are very excited about. We are running the competition for six weeks and there will be winners each week before an ultimate champion is decided.
Our artist will go down, meet the club, get to know what matters in the community and leave something very special and unique.
The aim is to have the club done in time for the semi-finals and then to roll out #StyleMy towards towns and wider communities.
Austin, Jackie Tyrell and Anna Geary are our ambassadors again for this year and they have been great. Austin even made his debut on Exposé today and that was a first.
Is the changed structure of the Championship a Challenge?
Because we are new we are less wrapped up in the tradition and there are more games now which create more opportunities for us. We know what the timelines are and we are making them work for us.
How does the Summer fit with your own business cycle?
April through to July is a key time for holiday wear and that fits very neatly with the Championship and then we are into the Autumn season and new product dropping each week.
The GAA season is part of so much already of what we do in terms of online marketing, PR, blogging and digital.
We moved quickly from having to explain the sport to our UK teams to them getting it really buying into it. Sky has a strong hand in the Hurling which also helps in terms of getting the message out to a wider UK audience as well.
Image Credit: Harry Murphy, Sportsfile