What’s the big deal about sport?

Every month Veronica interviews members of nesma’s network to discuss issues they face in achieving their marketing objectives. This month she managed to grab some time with John Oates, Head of Commercial at Newcastle Rugby Ltd. Just in time, as the rugby season is about to kick-off, and the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo will keep rugby fans enthralled through to November.

Big picture question for you, what role do you think that sport has in society’s wellbeing whether as a player or a spectator?

Sport undoubtedly has a significant role to play in this area since it is a useful “engagement” vehicle which can be used to influence, inspire and motivate people. At Newcastle Rugby, for example, we have a Charity which employs 10 people who use the “power” of sport to improve the lives of thousands of individuals from across the region.

Rugby also provides positive role models for young people since it emphasises the importance of discipline, team building, positive attitudes towards authority, fun and friendship.

Nelson Mandela summed this up when he said “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does.”

How effective do you believe sports sponsorship is for corporates?

Sports Sponsorship can be extremely useful. It can be used to build corporate brand awareness, both locally and nationally.  The club’s networks and match days can be used for corporates to sell their services or products plus the Charity can be used as a partner for their CSR policies.

Finally, hospitality, which is usually part of sponsorship packages, is used by corporates to develop relationships with potential and existing customers

Do you have any concerns at all about the amount of influence the sponsors have?

Sponsors invest in sport for the business development opportunities it provides them. Sponsorship is, therefore, a partnership in which the club receives an income to assist its growth, and the business gets business outcomes that support it to develop too.

We, therefore, need to recognise that we may need to adapt slightly to fulfil the needs of the sponsors, for example, changing the kick-off day/time.

Having said this, we are all conscious of how powerful sponsorship can be in influencing our audience. This means that we think very seriously about linking to products that may have a negative influence on their health and wellbeing.

I was asked to become part of a football Business Club. My principal reason for not taking part was the prevalence of betting companies in a family participation sport. What is your stance on this?

The number of gambling companies and firms that sponsor professional sports teams is on the rise. While a majority of them sponsor football teams, the number of operators that sponsor rugby is also beginning to grow.

My personal view is that the partnership between the sponsor and the club can be positive for both parties. For many people betting is a part of their weekly routine, with many of them betting sensibly. However, whilst I recognise that betting is legal and that the majority of brands are promoting Gamble Aware programmes, we do need to consider where the branding is visible. This is especially important since it could influence young people who are too young to understand the potential dangers.

What are you doing at the Falcons to connect with commercial partners?

Newcastle Falcons has much to offer Commercial Partners and connecting with a new audience is vital for our development. We work via social media, on match days when we have a broad audience and through referrals/introductions to find partners.

The fact that 73% of the rugby audience is of socio-economic group ABC1 and that 38% of the audience are either directors or owners of businesses also attracts enquiries from many companies.

We recently held the launch of our business club, over 200 individuals came to hear Harry Bartlett MC (28 years in the UK Special Forces) talk about the critical aspects of leadership. The club is bi-monthly and provides informative presentations and brand building and networking opportunities.

The World Cup starts in Tokyo in September – will I see you there?

No, you won’t! While I am excited about the World Cup, I am also enthused about the exciting things happening to the Newcastle Falcons Brand. With the development of women’s and girls’ rugby and wheelchair rugby as well as plans for a new stand, we have a lot to do! I need to remain in Newcastle to play my part in making all these things happen!


nesma is a regular contributor to Northern Insight, we use this opportunity to connect with members of nesma’s network to talk about the marketing and communications issues they face in their various day to day roles.

If you have time to have a cuppa with Veronica, please get in touch.