There has probably never been a brand as synonymous with a tournament than Heineken with rugby’s European cup. Even in passing, fans would say things like ‘Leinster have won three Heinekens and Munster have won two’. Talk about brand exposure.
But the 24 team structure wasn’t the only thing that changed when the European Rugby Champions Cup broke away from the old tournament. The Heineken Cup was no more and despite the lager sponsoring the new tournament, the old name died with it.
‘The naming rights weren’t on the table when we negotiated the current deal,” Heineken head of sponsorships Karl Donnelly said.
“I don’t think a brand will be involved in naming the tournament at any stage but the rights holders might shorten the name.”
So no Heineken Cup, Adidas Trophy or Smirnoff Series. For the moment, we will have to make do with the current unwieldy title of the European Rugby Champions Cup or the equally stuffy ERCC.
As of now, Heineken is the only marquee sponsor for the fledgling tournament. Donnelly puts the lack of brands signing up to be part of the competition down to the focus the organisers had to place on securing the television deal, which will make lots of money for the stakeholders. The lack of interest from other brands didn’t put Heineken off getting involved in European rugby again.
“The uncertainty surrounding the tournament wasn’t great for anyone but we weren’t concerned that other sponsors hadn’t gotten involved yet,” Donnelly said.
“At this stage of the new tournament’s evolution they are trying to build a brand in its own right and are focusing on the physical running of the tournament, which will eventually make it more valuable.
“They will come for sure [more sponsors]. From what I have heard, the new organisers had an awful lot of work to do in setting up the tournament and they were focusing on setting up the television deal, which will make them most of their money. They weren’t as focused on securing sponsors.”
The Heineken Cup has only been in the grave for a few months but time moves on quickly. Soon, the youth of today will be talking about the business end of the European Rugby Champions Cup and when you mention some of the great Heineken Cup days, they will look at you with a mixture of pity and disdain as if you had mentioned a cassette or a video player.
Donnelly thinks people will move on from the Heineken Cup quickly and embrace the new tournament.
“If the switch to a new tournament had been made ten years ago I think people would have gone on calling it the Heineken Cup for a lot longer but people are more conscious of terminology today,” Donnelly said.
“I don’t think many people thought we would switch from calling it Lansdowne Road to calling it the Aviva so quickly and I think fans will move on pretty fast.”