Rugby Sponsorship – What’s it all about?

If you were to think about the role of a club sponsor I wonder what would spring to mind?  I’d say the main thing would be a marketing ploy in exchange for cash; with some attendance at games thrown in for those within the business keen on the sport in question.  Across the world of rugby union a few big names spring to mind – O2, QBE, RBS and of course Heineken who strangely remain sponsors of the newly labelled European Champions Cup!

To go closer to home for me as a Saracens season ticket holder, I was aware of Allianz (of course), Sanlam Private Investments, Nike and CME Group; although looking at the Saracens website now I can see there are several more.

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As a huge rugby league fan the death of Terry Newton a man with 361 appearances behind him with top class teams, Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls and Wakefield, came as a huge shock.  He took his own life 4 years ago, the news sent shock waves across the game and had me wondering what sport does to help prepare players for the day the thrill of taking to the field is gone for them.

There has been a theme running through the interviews I’ve been lucky enough to granted so far being – ‘Life After Rugby’ .  Work experience has been a factor mentioned time and again. It has also become clear to me that Saracens in particular take a holistic approach to their involvement in the lives of their players.  Their Personal Development Plan sees the vast majority of them buying into the idea that there really is more to their lives than what goes on at the training ground or on game day.  95% of players are either in Training, Education or Work Experience.

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It figured of course that various companies must be working hand in hand with the club to help provide that experience.  For me it was something I’ve wanted to know more about, but how to make that sort of connection?  Well, the small world that is sport was how.  As well as being an avid rugby fan I’m also what one of my twitter friends refers to as a ‘Cricket Tragic’.  Over the summer months I literally can’t get enough of the game!  I already have 10 Ashes days booked and paid for.

So, how did cricket and rugby collide for me?  I was lucky enough to be at the Saracens season launch dinner; I checked out the guest list and saw the name Tom Westley.  That name probably isn’t totally unique but as I looked up I spotted Essex Cricket opening batsman Tom with fellow batsman Jaik Mickleburgh.  I’d sat with Tom at the awards dinner in 2013 so went across to chat some cricket.  The lads were with Chris Hughes a Partner at Kingston Smith; it seemed he and I shared a passion with cricket and Essex being at the core.  He kindly invited me to a networking meeting at the County Ground a few weeks later.

Tom Westley at his 'day Job"
Tom Westley at his ‘day Job”

 

It’s always great to mingle with fellow sports enthusiasts and I found myself chatting with Andrew Lewis a keen rugby and cricket fan, but also Senior Advisory Stockbroker at Sanlam Private Investments (SPI).  I’m sure you can see a pattern forming here!  A connection was made putting me in a position to find out more about the link between SPI and Saracens.  Andrew put me in touch with Ali Barwell, thoroughly lovely lady and Head of HR at SPI.  Ali is key to the building relationship between SPI and Saracens; she liaises with David Jones at the club helping fulfil the promise of the Personal Development Plan.

She and I met at Allianz Park where a football tournament was taking place, Wendyball at a rugby ground???  Whatever next?  It was actually a great event put on by Saracens for their sponsors; a morning of fun followed by a very nice lunch.  We formed a plan and Ali went away to put it into motion; the plan culminated in a meeting at the SPI offices with senior player Neil De Kock of Saracens; we were later joined by Tom Westley and Greg Smith of Essex.

Neil De Kock at his 'day job'
Neil De Kock at his ‘day job’

The hour or so I spent with Neil will produce a second article about his life and career so far, but the gist of this piece is the ‘other’ side to the involvement of SPI as sponsors.  Some background to the company; I will lift some spiel from their website, this is complicated stuff!

Overview

‘Sanlam Private Investments provides integrated wealth management solutions for high net worth individuals and their families, trusts, charities and corporates.

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We provide a comprehensive suite of financial services including wealth management, investment management, stockbroking and tax-efficient services’

The company was formed in South Africa in 1999 and has been operating in England since 2012; they are part of the wider Sanlam Group founded in 1918.  There is a strong rugby link with Andre Vos the former Springbok Captain being involved with the South African side of the business.  A man with incredible leadership qualities it’s clear his skills have been transferable into the ‘real world’.  The world that SPI operates in is a hugely competitive one, by its nature the business needs people with the sort of leadership skills a man like Vos can bring; a man of his calibre is key to the success of the business.

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In what are early days for the partnerships in England it’s clear that the benefits are mutual.  As far as Saracens are concerned Neil De Kock has been spending a day a week in London; he recognises that the end of his long playing career isn’t too far away.  The insight he’s gaining is giving him an understanding of whether this is a world he can see his future in.  SPI are sponsoring Tim Streather as an individual to gain a valuable qualification; he’ll study at their offices with the back up of the staff employed there.  Ben Ransom also joined us for lunch; he’ll gain an insight into the business and receive practical help in his studying.

For the Essex players?  Greg at 31 is clearly looking to his future; he expressed his regret that he hadn’t considered ‘Life After Cricket’ earlier.  He’s spending the winter in Cape town and will gain some work experience with the South African arm of the business.  Tom Westley at 25 has a very clear understanding of the need to consider life once his playing days are over.  He’s at a very exciting stage of his career as he jets off to Sri Lanka to take part in the England Performance Programme.  Life is good, he had a superb season with his county; I was lucky enough to see him score several centuries!

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It was obvious that the presence of the players at the SPI offices brought a certain buzz.  Saracens as a club seems to have unique qualities in being process driven rather than purely results driven.  They care about their employees at all levels; it was plain that SPI is learning from the club as well as giving players a helping hand towards their future.  I hope to be writing a further piece about plans Sanlam Private Investments have to take things further with Saracens.  It was wonderful to see the passion from both parties and to know the sponsorship thing goes so much further than cash and marketing!

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