Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Ulster ground's naming rights up for sale

For Sale — ownership of Ravenhill, Ulster’s 89-year-old Irish Rugby Football Union-owned headquarters.

Not the stadium itself, but naming rights to it, with a bidding war set to rage now that Ulster have made it known that they are ready to deal with the right partners.

Work on new stands at both ends of the grounds will start in December. When that is finished, the old grandstand will be demolished and a new ultra-modern replacement erected in its place. Completion of the all-new 18,000-capacity stadium is scheduled for 2015 and the stadium will be in use during the transformation.

But what it will be called remains to be seen, ditto the price any company can expect to pay in order to have its name replace the traditional ‘Ravenhill.’

Ulster Rugby’s Chief Executive Shane Logan said: “We have planning permission and we have funding and we’ll finish 18 months after the work starts with a new, purpose-built rugby stadium which will tremendously enhance our income-generating capacity.

“The big driver for us is to increase attendances, increase interest and increase the value of our commercial propositions and our next one for that will be stadium naming rights.

“We’ll need to make sure that we’ve got the right partner and the right value from them. The Aviva Stadium deal is 10 years — two fives, five plus an option to renew, I think.”

“We would be looking for something on a par with that. If it’s going to work for both parties it needs to be long enough to gain currency.

“And it needs to be there during the building so that as the excitement towards the opening of the new stadium rises, the name by which it is to be known rises as well.”

Ulster are stressing that the winners of the naming-rights bid will play a major part in something very special.

“It is likely that our training base will be at Ravenhill,” the Chief Executive said.

“We will have a shop, restaurants, additional hospitality for 3,200 people, a museum and an education centre to which we will aim to bring every school pupil twice during their time in education to learn about rugby, understand its values, to see players train and to hear from them about healthy living, good sportsmanship and no abuse of alcohol, drugs or tobacco so that, hopefully, they are inspired by the game.

“This won’t just be a stadium that lights up on match nights. It is for everybody who plays rugby in Ulster — currently 29,000 people — not just the professional team.”

The naming-rights scenario is not virgin territory, the IRFU having already gone down this road.

In tandem with the Football Association of Ireland, the Union agreed a deal with insurance giants Hibernian Aviva in 2009.

As a result the former Lansdowne Road venue was renamed the Aviva Stadium following a €400m demolition and re-build.

Financial details were not disclosed, but industry sources believe Aviva paid around €40m for the rights.

Ulster’s bargaining position is greatly boosted by the fact that all of their home matches are televised and the media’s repeated use of the stadium’s name amounts to continuous advertising. But even that is just part of the attraction.

American Appraisal’s managing director Mike Weaver, an expert in the field of stadium naming-rights, said: “The price for the equivalent media exposure in such deals can be valued relatively easily using the cost of buying the media direct, but the more intangible brand association is more difficult to quantify and can sometimes be significant.

“The deal value for a sponsor of a new stadium comes from a close brand association and corporate partnership rather than simply the value of the airtime and column inches it generates in the media. The Ulster team has got both qualities.”

Meanwhile, Shaun Edwards will return to club coaching from next season after London Irish confirmed their acquisition of the Wales defence coach on a part-time basis.

The 45-year-old has helped Wales to two RBS 6 Nations Grand Slams since being added to Warren Gatland's coaching staff in 2008, and he has a contract with the Welsh Rugby Union through to the 2015 World Cup.

Under the terms of that agreement Edwards is allowed a period of time to work with an Aviva Premiership club, and he will spend one day a week with the Exiles after returning from Wales' summer tour to Australia.

Edwards is one of the most-decorated coaches in the game after a glittering spell at Wasps that saw them win Premiership titles in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008 and the Heineken Cup in 2004 and 2007.

“London Irish has some fantastic players who I am looking forward to working with,” he said.

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