Six Nations: score with rugby

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Related tags: Famous grouse, Twickenham stadium, Six nations championship, England national rugby union team, Six nations

Within the past year, England have flopped at football, been hit for six at cricket, and been tackled into touch in the rugby. These failures by the...

Within the past year, England have flopped at football, been hit for six at cricket, and been tackled into touch in the rugby. These failures by the biggest of the home nations nevertheless have one thing in common: they have generated good business for pubs.

Now the festival of sport that is the Six Nations is on the horizon. Starting on February 3, the tournament will see England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales competing against each other, as well as France and Italy, creating a unique opportunity for pubs throughout the UK.

Like any flag-waving fan on the terraces, it seems that any brand seeking to associate itself with rugby is a proud patriot. Think Ireland, and you think Guinness. Think Wales, and you think SA Brain. Scotland has the Famous Grouse. And, of course, since the World Cup victory in 2003, there has been a race to be the official beer of the England team.

Leading this pack is Greene King, which signed a deal in October 2005 with the team in white worth over £5m. The thinking holds that, because the team with which the brand is tied is in the hearts and minds of the public, so will be the beer. The product recognition should mean that England fans, inspired by a passionate atmosphere watching the game in the pub, will of course now order Greene King IPA.

But how important is sporting success in this equation? And does supporting one nation hamstring a drink's chances of appealing to rival nations?

We asked the brand owners crossing their fingers for the Six Nations whether the line between losing and winning on the field equals a line between profit and loss behind your bar.

Greene King

In the largest sponsorship deal the brand has ever seen, Greene King IPA is now the official beer of the Rugby Football Union.

It will have its own dedicated 'Greene King IPA pub' stationed outside Twickenham stadium, and in-pub promotions will run across its estate. Some may say that packing down with England at the worst time in their history may be an agreement Greene King will come to regret over the four years covered by the deal.

Not so, says Fiona Hope, Greene King Brewing Company marketing director, who believes that England fans are not so fickle as to desert their team and its beer.

"England rugby fans have pride and passion for the sport and it's all about the anticipation of a great game," she says.

"The build-up of excitement and expectation before a match is normally in the pub."


Guinness will invest more than £1.7m in advertising targeted at the 2007 Six Nations. Its associations with the team in green means that "if and when Ireland win the Six Nations, there will be a spike in sales," according to Lee Bailey, sponsorship manager at Guinness GB.

However, its broad focus on rugby - it is poured at Scotland's stadium, Murrayfield, Wales' home ground, the Millennium Stadium, and Guinness is also the official beer of Canadian rugby - means it is not dependent on Irish success.

"We are proud that Guinness is an iconic Irish brand," says Lee, "but it is also a huge global brand." He believes that rugby, more than any other sport lends itself to a partisan base of drinkers. "When you compare football and rugby, it's a bit like comparing lager and Guinness.

"Guinness drinkers are making a statement about themselves and their values, and there is more of a community feel with both rugby and Guinness. You are welcome wherever you go as a rugby fan, you can sit next to your biggest rival in the pub."

Wells & Young's

Another brewer with vested interest in England's performance is Wells & Young's, with its Bombardier brand. The company is to distribute more than 1,200 consumer kits to key Bombardier stockists for the Six Nations, and spokesman for Wells & Young's Sarah McGhie says: "I defy anyone to go into a pub in Twickenham and not be able to buy a pint of Bombardier."

Sarah is confident that customers who have watched England crash to a series of disappointing defeats recently will not turn their backs on the beer known for its support of St George's Day and all things English.

"Though England have been playing atrociously, there is this spirit of digging deep," she says.

"If you are a rugby fan and understand the spirit of England, you are always going to go to the pub and watch it. Retailers know that this is a perfect opportunity for cask ale."

SA Brain

One brewer understandably upbeat about its associations with a national team is SA Brain.

Brains' long-standing sponsorship of the Welsh team is reaping the benefits of success on the field in the run-up to the Six Nations - as indicated by the new version of the Welsh jersey, which bears Brains' logo, becoming the fastest selling of all time.

Richard Davies, SA Brain sales and marketing director, has little doubt about the effect of a winning team on the beer's sales.

He says: "Given the positive spirit with which Wales played over the autumn internationals, we are very optimistic for the upcoming Six Nations.

"Our bi-annual brand tracking research shows that brand awareness of Brains in Wales is on a par with other national brands.

"The sponsorship awareness gives Brains' brands must-stock status."

The Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse is aiming to build on last year's Six Nations, which marked the 15th year of its sponsorship of the Scotland team, by extending its match day sampling sessions to a select number of pubs in London.

The Maxxium brand had offered samples of the whisky on match days in a selection of pubs in Edinburgh. This time around - with Scotland's first match of the Six Nations being against England at Twickenham - there will be four pubs in London in which customers will get free samples of the Famous Grouse with ginger beer or sparkling apple juice on the nights before the England vs Scotland (Friday February 2) and England vs France (Saturday March 10) games.

There will also be other giveaways on these occasions.

The four will include England fan favourite the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham. Maxxium has partnered with Regent Inns to establish the three others in the pubco's Walkabouts in "strong rugby areas around London", according to Famous Grouse brand manager, Lee Walker.

As well as England's capital, the sampling scheme will take place in 14 selected pubs north of the border, in Edinburgh.

The Famous Grouse will also be nationally distributing consumer kits, containing instant win scratch cards, and will be running a marquee on the back pitches at Murrayfield on match days.

Tokens distributed on the way to the ground will guarantee supporters free entry to the Famous Grouse marquee, which will feature a Ceilidh band and sampling.

This points to the importance of what Lee labels "interactivity", getting potential drinkers involved with the brand.

As well as handing out tokens, The Famous Grouse teams "lining the route to Murrayfield" will hand out free maps featuring pub and bar listings. "Last year was our biggest success in terms of activation of this sponsorship," says Lee.

"This year is about keeping up that process. For us, it's about enhancing the occasion of the Six Nations, and the challenge now is about taking the brand outside of Scotland."

And she doesn't fear that the chances of a drink so strongly associated with Scotland appealing to home supporters in London will be dented by hostility to a team that defeated England in the Six Nations last year.

"The rugby community is very good hearted," Lee says.

"There's always going to be rivalry but it's not the same as in other sports. That's why the brand links so strongly to rugby.

"The teamship and camaraderie is key to our values."

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