World Cup blows hit Corporate Ireland but opportunities still abound
World Cup aspirations formed the biggest talking points of both rugby and soccer fans in Ireland this year. The GAA also set their sights on a World Cup, supporting the rugby bid with its stadia. As autumn unfolded on 2017, the nation’s hopes reached fever pitch across both sports. Hopes that were cruelly dashed with a double knockout for Irish sport as a failed Rugby World Cup bid was quickly followed by a loss in the World Cup football play-off.
November turned out to be a very dark and dreary month for Irish sport indeed. Before the month had even begun (on October 31st) Ireland received the news that the Rugby World Cup Board had recommended South Africa as 2023 host with Ireland ranked in last place.
A temporary high followed on the 11th of November when the Irish soccer team drew 0-0 with Denmark in the away leg of their World Cup play-off, giving the team every chance of qualifying for Russia. However, the low quickly returned just four days later when it was confirmed that Ireland would not host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The blues had barely set in when less than 24 hours later, Ireland were thrashed 5-1 in the second leg of the football play-off against the Danes. A November to forget for any fans of Irish sport.
It wasn’t just the fans though that were left deflated. The government for one had started to dream of what the impact of hosting a successful World Cup on our shores might do for both the economy and their reputation. The prospective economic windfall was estimated at €800 million to the island of Ireland and add to that the boost An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and his government would have benefited from was immeasurable.
Corporate Ireland and the sponsorship industry were also left licking their wounds with the double-disappointment. Brand Managers wondered what might have been and immediately began re-examining their plans.
FAI sponsors such as 3, New Balance and Celtic Pure had their sights set on Russia and creating impactful sponsorship campaigns that would have formed the bedrock of their marketing in 2018.
However, it was the rugby news that left the biggest scar. A five year build up to the world cup in Ireland was a mouth-watering prospect for IRFU sponsors such as Vodafone, Aer Lingus, Volkswagen, Aldi and Glenisk to name a few. The global sponsors of World Rugby with links in Ireland would have emerged and countless other companies and brands in corporate Ireland would have jumped on the rugby bandwagon.
It had all looked so positive too when Ireland staged a very successful Women’s World Cup in Ireland in August. Tournament organisers and key sponsors such as AON ran very successful marketing campaigns helping to build a groundswell of support for the event. The Irish team may not have had a successful tournament but Ireland certainly proved its hosting credentials.
Despite a solid bid and all the emotive factors that made us feel Ireland deserved the World Cup ahead of South Africa and France, both of whom had hosted the event before, in the end it came down to brass tax. The simple question of which host country would make the most revenue for World Rugby Union was enough to sway even our Celtic cousins in Scotland and Wales to vote against us.
While both world cup losses were a missed opportunity for sponsors, both sports are in good commercial standing from a sponsorship perspective. The FAI signed up several new sponsors in 2017 including Rustlers, iPro and Fulfil while Vodafone are leading the way in rugby’s portfolio of sponsors with their award-winning campaigns.
The Gaelic Athletic Association can also boast a healthy roster of top tier sponsors with Littlewoods Ireland and Bord Gais Energy coming on board in the hurling this year to ease any worries the commercial department may have had in losing Liberty and Etihad.
So, with the Rugby 2023 bid a fading memory, where will prospective sponsorship brands turn to in 2018? Cycling and the growing trend in mass participation events offer corporate Ireland some viable opportunities.
It emerged earlier this year that An Post would step away from cycling after a decade of investment in the sport, concluding their sponsorships of An Post Rás, the An Post Chain Reaction Cycling Team and An Post Rás na mBan.
The loss of their key sponsor has resulted in the Sean Kelly team withdrawing from the tour next year but with a new backer the team would reportedly reform for 2019. The race itself, part of the Irish sporting scene since the 1950’s, has searched in vain so far to replace An Post and with each passing month a replacement seems less likely, something which may put the event itself in jeopardy.
Steering away from competitive cycling, the annual Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle, entering its 35th year in 2018, is also seeking sponsors. Raising well over €1 million each year the event is one of the largest fundraising events on the island with almost 10,000 cyclists taking on the stunning 180km route each July.
Running continues to thrive in Ireland with brands such as SSE Airtricity for the Dublin Marathon and VHI for the Park runs enjoying great success with their sponsorships. However, two great properties are currently without a lead sponsor. Firstly, the Night Run, previously sponsored by Samsung and more recently Virgin Media is expecting over 7,000 runners to take on the 10km iconic Dublin city centre route.
Secondly, and not to confuse things, the Run in the Dark 10km is also looking for a headline partner having previously been sponsored by Lifestyle Sports. The event has grown into a global success with over 30,000 runners taking part across over 50 cities, raising funds for the inspirational Mark Pollock Foundation in his plight to fast-track a cure for paralysis. The largest event takes place in Dublin each November with almost 10,000 running through the Docklands in Dublin.
So, despite some disappointments this year, there are plenty of options for companies looking for a sporting outlet that fits their image.
– Kevin Moore, Managing Director, Legacy Consultants