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Commercial deals with sport-loving executives ‘the hardest to close’, says Rugby Union

Securing commercial deals has become harder for rugby union officials amid historical perceptions that brands only became sponsors because the boss loved the sport.

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Australian Rugby Union head of partnerships, Pete Sciberras, said striking deals where board level executives are rugby lovers are “now often the hardest”.

Business leaders, cognisant of past suggestions that a sponsorship was based on a personal agenda rather than sound business strategy, are now having to convince the company of the reasons behind such a deal, he said.

Asked about the commercial landscape for rugby union, Sciberras told a conference: “It’s definitely tougher. There are far more layers of approval these days.

“Rugby has had this perception that if a chief executive or chairman likes going to a game then it’s an easy win. But they are often the hardest because often these individuals need to convince the business that they are not doing it for him or her.”

Ultimately, securing a deal will “come down to what that brand wants to be associated with”, with the transgressions of rugby clubs and players one discussion point during negotiations.

“We are big on the value of rugby,” Sciberras said. “Do brands look at misbehaviour as a detractor? That is one element and depends on the brand. We have a range of sponsors who like the exposure.”

During the discussion on sponsorship at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit, former public relations director at Visa, Andrew Woodward, said Visa had been keen to sever its sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup when the sport’s governing body first became mired in a corruption scandal.

Visa

But despite mounting negative publicity surrounding FIFA, Woodward told delegates he advised his employer not to walk away.

“Visa was coming under pressure to dump its FIFA World Cup sponsorship, but we said no, fans don’t give a shit,” he said. “They love the World Cup, they love football, they love the global tournament and the tribalism. People don’t give a rat’s about FIFA and Sepp Blatter and all their comings and goings.

“We said if you pull us out of this you are harming us rather than harming FIFA.”

Woodward said the advice was backed by research it carried out among football supporters, with fans saying they know FIFA is corrupt and that any association with the World Cup did not reflect badly on Visa.

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