Bank Or Beer? Six Nations Rugby Sponsor's Woes

It's that time of year again when friends suddenly remind you they have a Welsh, Scottish or Irish parent and curiously start cheering on anyone but England in the Six Nations, despite having rallied behind Gareth Southgate and the boys in the World Cup. Or maybe it's just me?

Anyway, the big takeaway ahead of tonight's opening game between France and Wales for advertising and marketing, or more particularly, the sponsorship sector is that new arrangements take time.

This year we have a new headline sponsor to take over from RBS, the name that has become synonymous in recent years with the international rugby tournament in which England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy compete for top honours.

If you were asked to name the main sponsor, however, would you be able to? It's a little like the World Cup where despite Adidas pumping in tens of millions of pounds in sponsorship, people look at the ads at the time and conclude, wrongly, that Nike must be the main kit partner. 

OK -- so it's the first year for Diageo's famous beer -- or rather, stout -- brand Guinness lending its name to the tournament. It's the first of a six-year deal, so it may not be too surprising that people still think of RBS which sponsored the tournament for the past 15 years. 

When GlobalWebIndex questioned fans, it found that only 19% correctly identified Guinness compared to 47% who believe it to still be RBS.

Perhaps more worrisome, 13% of fans thought the main sponsor was Heineken, presumably because of the lager brand's sponsorship of the club level Heineken's Champions Cup. If memory serves me correctly, it was also the lager on offer at the 2015 Rugby World Cup held in Britain.

So fans are split. Nearly half think RBS is the Six Nations sponsor and the other near half think it's either Guinness or Heineken. 

Another worrisome sign for those involved with the Six Nations is that 37% associate Heineken with the Six Nations and just 31% make a link between the BBC and the tournament, despite the BBC sharing the games with ITV and, embarrassingly, Heineken not being a sponsorship partner for the event. It is, after all, the BBC rugby fans will need to be tuned into for tonight's opener.

As an interesting aside, RBS pulled out because it did not want to pay what is believed to be GBP11m a year to be associated with the tournament. The opportunity was taken to the market for GBP17m per year but remained unsold for quite some time. It is believed to have been snapped up by Guinness for just GBP9m a year.

It was widely seen as either a reasonable or bargain price for a sport that is synonymous with those who are highly educated and have comparative high net worth.

Diageo probably did get a good deal, then, but its Guinness brand will need to do a lot of work to make sure it starts to get value from that GBP9m a year and convince fans it has taken over from RBS, if it is to avoid a rugby version of the Adidas vs Nike confusion.

One can forgive people for thinking RBS is still the main sponsor, but when nearly as many people think Heineken is the title sponsor as Guinness, the team is put on notice that it has some serious activation work to do.

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