The Rugby Football Union has received interest from “two prestigious companies” in its ongoing search for a new sponsor for its top-flight women’s tier, according to the body’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney.
The confirmation that the body is engaging with potential title partners will offer some comfort for Premier 15s clubs, which was left without a league sponsor when Tyrrells ended its support last month, weeks after the season was voided due to coronavirus.
The competition, which is unlikely to start up again until September at the earliest, is said to be “major strategic priority” to the RFU, which has already pledged to ring-fence funds at both club and national level despite anticipating a £50m shortfall due to the impact of coronavirus.
“We want to make sure the women’s game is not disproportionately impacted,” Sweeney told the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly show. “The 28 professional contracts [for England women’s players], they’re being protected. It was a disappointment to lose that title sponsor [Tyrrells] and it’s a major priority to replace that.
“We’ve got some conversations going at the moment with two prestigious companies who are interested to get involved. In the interim, we’ve actually put more RFU money into it to cover that sponsorship loss. Even though there’s been a cut in overall terms, we’re actually putting more money into the women’s premier league.
“We know when you’ve got a very strong women’s game and a community game and strong women’s sections at a club, clubs perform better. We think the continued growth of the women’s game is a key point in supporting stability and participation in the men’s game. For us, it’s not a negotiable one.”
Premier 15s clubs have received £80,000 a year in funding from the RFU during the past three seasons, while a further £800,000 is thought to cover the 28 England players on full-time contracts which were introduced last year, a precedent which is yet to be followed by other unions.
“We’re really talking to other unions and saying, ‘You’ve got to do the same thing as well’. What we also need to see is better standards of play from the other unions,” added Sweeney.
“At the moment, the competition levels are too focused on New Zealand and us [England] and we want to broaden that out so you’ve got a more level competitive playing field across other unions, and they need to keep up their investment.”