Farewell RBS: What Next for 6 Nations Rugby Sponsorship?

By in Featured, Insights, Sponsorship Activation, Thought Pieces

After fourteen years we bid a very fond farewell to RBS, title sponsor of the 6 Nations since 2003. The letters ‘RBS’ have become synonymous with 6 Nations rugby. So much so it’s a real challenge to cast my mind back far enough to when it was referred to as something other than the RBS 6 Nations Championship. For those who can’t remember it was the Lloyds TSB Six Nations, by the way!

RBS have maximised their sponsorship of the 6 Nations with the use of both master and sub-brand. In England and Wales this has been played more through NatWest, in Ireland via Ulster Bank and of course Royal Bank of Scotland worked north of the border.

Back in 2003 the City was flying high, rugby’s professional era was in its infancy and the initial two year deal signed for circa £9million a year. 14 years on, the Championship continues to thrive, its economic impact estimated at more than £400m per season. On the flip side, the banking industry, and RBS in particular, has navigated choppy waters. Where there was once a huge opportunity to use the tournament to create dialogue with and entertain key clients, the arrival of  the Bribery Act and a tighter regulatory environment has massively changed the ability for a financial services brand to maximise this aspect of the sponsorship activation and assets.

Whomever comes to the table, it is widely thought they will be required to stump up between £15 – 20 million per year. Given the above situation it seems probable that RBS’s successor will not be from the financial services industry but more likely a large consumer brand.

The 6 Nations seems to have ignored the opportunity to re-shape its sponsorship portfolio, unlike the English Premier League when Barclays chose not to renew their title sponsorship. The EPL believed it could strengthen its brand globally without a headline partner, providing ‘exclusive categories’ to partners rather than the more traditional all-encompassing headline sponsorship and so enabling them to widen the search for new partners and free up inventory. The space on shirt sleeves, which clubs can commercialise from the 2017/18 season, being an obvious example.

And so, other than a sizeable cheque, what will John Feehan and his colleagues at 6 Nations be looking for when drawing up their shortlist of new headline partners? The Chief Executive has already declared the tournament is looking for a partner who is ‘actively engaged throughout the world’, citing the USA as a market in which the tournament has huge potential to benefit from growth.

An annual fixture in the calendar for those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, the 6 Nations still has some way to go to call itself a global event. Those who consume the tournament, whether on TV, online or in stadia, are all from the shores of each nation. There is clearly a thought process from Feehan and his colleagues that if they can convince a global partner to invest, then further interest will be driven in other untapped markets such as the USA and Asia.  Would it therefore come as a shock if a fixture, or even a weekend of fixtures, moved to another continent? The Rugby Championship and Premiership Rugby have already experimented with this in 2016 and no doubt such a move would be favourable to World Rugby, bringing rugby’s oldest and most respected tournament to new eyes.

No doubt the ‘big reveal’ over RBS’s successor is imminent. Our guess is that one of the major beer brands will step into the fray with the opportunity to maximise their global market sub-brands. If progress and viewing figures continue to grow, maybe in this next cycle we will see a 6 Nations fixture of England v. Scotland in New York City.


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