This week’s news that the Magners League (a professional Rugby league comprising the celtic nations - Wales, Scotland and Ireland - and Italy) is going to be renamed the RaboDirect Pro12 will have excited just about no one - at first hearing it does sound a bit of a mouthful. No disrespect to the competition (in which I used to work) nor the sponsor now associated with it - but it is a good example of sport’s over-reliance on corporate income. For a league looking to build it’s own footprint - the move from Magners League to the RaboDirect Pro 12 - will certainly not be a seamless one.
Of course the most commercially advanced leagues in the world - those in the USA - do not have a Title sponsor - meaning that the league need never change it’s name - meaning that the league is free to grow that brand and grow the income streams that support it. It’s just ‘The NFL’, ‘The NBA’, etc etc.
An even bigger 'of course' though sees the rest of American sports presentation (i.e. stadia, TV shows, media, events, hot dog stands, pencil holders, and onward) swamped by commercial association (this blog is currently being brought to you in association with a “Snickers and a warm cup of tea!”).
There is no perfect commercial presentation out there - we all need the cash. Hell, even the previously hallowed Bareclona FC jersey has just been sold to the country that can seemingly buy whatever it wants (so the rumors hint).
There is a thin line to be trodden between squeezing every last cent out of every last possible deal in the short term, and looking at the long term view as to what will build your competition / your brand / your club into the future. But in today’s increasingly commercial world (where the former social phenomenon Twitter is now charging brands $120k per day for trending preference), everything seemingly has a price - and heh, sports just want a piece of that action.
Sport’s unique place in society, where the heart is the decision maker rather than the head (which looks after the rest of our lives), means that it has the ability to lead people, to impact communities, and to shape society. The current route (to sell / sell / sell) does plenty to swell the coffers (of the sport and it’s well paid practitioners) but increasingly less to leave a positive impact on the world.
A change of name and a relatively unknown title sponsor brand name will not push the Celtic League’s growth - though it could be argued that the Irish club’s current dominance of European rugby is all it needs. No doubt the sponsorship value and the further funds committed to support the sponsorship (which will be crucial) will ease these concerns (and may indeed deliver that growth in a few years time).
It is a brave GM / CEO who turns down valued sponsorship income - to protect the brand - and it is tough for any sporting body to manage this equation of short term gain vs long term growth. But we should all be striving for commercial nirvana - where the sponsors are committed, long term, and involved in our growth (but not in changing the name), and where the supporters (who ultimately decide whether a sport succeeds or fails - in the long term) fully understand the need for - and buys into - the sponsor.
To achieve this - right’s holders have to view sponsors as more than just a $ sign; have to make decisions not based on who pays the most but who will deliver the most to your long term growth, and have to work hard to keep sponsor’s happy. As I am sure is the plan with the new RaboDirect Pro 12 link up (see I remembered the name already).
All the best to all 10/12 teams in the Magners/Rabobank League/Pro12 next season.