The Sporting Year Ahead brought together over 100 leaders from the Sport for Business community in Dublin on January 18th.
We had a great line up of speakers including Padraig Power from the IRFU who talked us through what promises to be a magical year for Irish Rugby.
Good morning Padraig. It was some year in 2018 and it promises to be very special in 2019. Does it feel different to what it is like at the start of a non World Cup year?
Morning Rob and what a pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues gathered here this morning.
2018 was a wonderful year. You kind of worry a little and ask how does it get any better than that but we are optimists.
It’s so often about the smallest of margins. Johnny Sexton might not have got the drop goal, we might not have had those 44 phases and it would have been so different.
The Six Nations is a real momentum tournament and that worked out so well for us.
I was down then in Australia for the second and third tests and someone joked that we should send a bill to the Australian Rugby Union for ticket sales there were so many Irish fans there. Winning that series was mentally a giant step. A first series since 1979 gave a lot of confidence and that was followed by Italy in Chicago which gave a lot of new players a chance to find out what life was like in the ‘Joe Show.’
Then there was the All Blacks. I was delighted for the guys involved because it was great to do it again. Some said they weren’t ready for Chicago but they were ready this time and it was a powerful win.
I won’t ask how the team preparations are going, because Joe probably wouldn’t say very much but off the field we have Guinness coming in as sponsors of the Six Nations. Does it make it easier having suvh a strong relatioinship with them down the years?
I think it’s really good for the tournament. Guinness is one of the best sponsorship activators in the world and we have been working with them for many years.
The first contract I had with them was a one pager. It said that we will do this, they will do that and if there is anything we have forgotten that we can sort it out over a pint.
That’s changed a little bit now but they are great to deal with.
Sponsorship has changed a lot but at its best it is working better than ever. Sport has a magic and it’s all about live and being there.
It’s become impossible to avoid a result now if you were doing something else and wanted to watch in your own time. As such sport and the big events have become that last great coraller of mass markets. That’s a big plus for us and for the sponsors we work with.
If you look at the TV figures you published last week, Rugby was number two and three on the annual list. The Six Nations has always been there but now the November Series has really caught up.
Guinness have a real clarity about what they want to achieve. They will bring a lot of rigour to their support, with KPI’s and messaging that will be driven by real insight. I’m meeting the team on Tuesday to see the latest iteration of what they will be doing and I think it’s really exciting for the tournament.
How easy is it to keep all the sponsors happy when it comes to a major tournament?
We are fortunate in that we have a great family of partners. We try to eliminate grey and remove points of potential conflict.
Kevin Quinn from Leinster and Philip Quinn from Munster are jere with us today and they do a great job as well. What we do is clearly lay out what the tram lines are in terms of what partners can expect.
Everybody we work with is very professional. It’s clear which parts of the ecosystem belongs to them and it’s really important to get the right advice before jumping in.
Of course everyone wants their campaign to be the one that people are talking about but there is room for everybody and as I say we are lucky to have such great partners to work with at the top end, from Vodafone and Aviva to Guinness and PwC. There is room for eveybody to be a winner.
Will it be more challenging when we get to the end of the year and to the Rugby World Cup? You’ve got sponsors from all over the world. Does that present you with a different level of complexity?
It comes around every four years and it gives World Rugby one shot to make the money that keeps the sport rolling for another four years.
There is natural tension but the model has evolved and there is a pretty decent set of guidelines that tells everyone what the boundaries are.
Sponsors are allowed to associate with the team but not to use any of the IP or the marks of Rugby World Cup unless they are a partner with them as well.
We have already begun the process of working with our own partners and will step that up as the tournament draws closer so that everyone knows what they can expect and how they can benefit without stepping over the line.
Given the time zones we will be watching games in the morning and with two Tuesdayas on the schedule, and one Thursday we are working with our schools team in terms of some interesting possibiliities about how the country will be watching.
World Rugby will have a big team of lawyers looking to protect the rights they have sold.
Back in New Zealand in 2011 there was a lot of lobbying from unions around how we had partners who had been key in getting us there but now when it came to the marquee event they weren’t being allowed anywhere near it.
Now we have got to a point where teams can wear kit at training that bears the team supporters logo. However, they can’t come out of a World Cup Hotel, get on a World Cup bus or arrive at a World Cup training venue wearing that gear so we have to make sure that the right branded clothing is ready at those different points. Yes it can be complex getting 38 full grown adults to change into different items purely from a commercial view when they are ‘in the zone’ as regards their performance, but we get it done.
Japan is very different from what we are used to. There will be a lot of small stuff and the teams that do the best in those areas will be the ones that do best in the tournament.
Obviously, we have a great relationship with World Rugby. We have forgiven them for overlooking us for 2023. is there still a lingering regret though that when the flag is passed at the end of this year’s tournament it will be to Emmanuel Macron rather than Leo Varadkar?
We put a big effort in and it didn’t happen but we are over it. I guess we believe that the game missed an opportunity but we are really delighted with France. They will run a brilliant World Cup.
We would have had a wonderful tournament and a uniquely Irish one which might have opened up the game to new audiences but that’s what happened and we move on.
Aer Lingus are one of your key partners, they had a big launch of their new branding yesterday. Will they be flying the team down to Japan?
No that is all looked after by World Rugby and I haven’t seen the logistics yet but it’s likely we will fly down from a major hub. Aer Lingus will bring us to there so leaving Ireland will be with them. I was there yesterday and it does look great the new livery.
The international team is the kingpin, and we have a great structure at provincial level. We have lost Ulster Bank as the sponsor of the club and community side though. Is there any movement on a new partner in that area?
The club game is very important. It’s the bedrock that underpins everything. Professional rugby creates a dividend which goes back into the grassroots to develop the sport.
We are working on a plan and will have an announcement on that in due course.