Money is the name of the game in Ulster stadium name-change
First the good news: Ulster Rugby have signed up to a home stadium name-change believed to be worth £4m over the next 10 seasons. Now the bad news: if social media is anything to go by, the Ulster fans aren't exactly enamoured by the sudden revelation that from now on they'll be visiting "the Kingspan Stadium" and not their beloved, simple, historic and traditional Ravenhill.
Moreover, the money won't be poured directly into strengthening the first-team squad, as is what usually happens at Premier League football clubs.
Supporters will, however, welcome the cash injection which Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Officer Shane Logan stressed will be used to benefit the game at every level.
Yesterday the famous south Belfast ground was emblazoned with Kingspan Stadium signs. Asked if he felt supporters might be upset at the name-change, Logan told the Belfast Telegraph: "When my daughter gets married her name will change, but I hope it is for the good.
"Yes of course people are attached to the name but to me what is important is that we've got a cracking new partner.
"We can't grow the game the way we want to without considerable sponsorship and government funding and our fans supporting us in increasing numbers. So I think people will get used to the name and grow fond of it.
"The important thing for us is that we build what people have come to value at this stadium which is cracking rugby, winning rugby ideally – but unfortunately it can't always be – where if we lose, we lose with good grace, where behaviour is good and where we respect the opposition and the referee.
"This stadium is for all of rugby in Ulster. It's the pinnacle of players' careers, whether they are playing ladies rugby, disabled rugby, Schools' Cup, Medallion Shield or for the senior Ulster side. This is their stadium, a stadium for all 35,000 players.
"The fact that it is now the Kingspan Stadium allows us to continue to invest in the game right across all those different levels."
Confirming that there had been other suitors, the CEO said: "There were three or four others who were interested."
When asked if that level of interest proved the desirability of a high-profile link with Ulster Rugby, he replied: "It's not just about our brand, which I hope continues to grow, although it has a long way to go; it's about getting the right fit.
"With Kingspan I think we have a company that fits well. It's an Ulster company with a very significant presence in Portadown but is headquartered in Cavan. It's a company that produces ethical environmental products, which was important, too.
"I think getting the right fit was key. It's not simply about money; it's got to be money plus the right fit. We hope both we and Kingspan get an excellent return from this.
"That's what good business is about – both parties benefiting and winning and doing it in the right way."
Ongoing print media and television exposure of the stadium's name clearly made this an attractive proposition and Pat Freeman, managing director of Kingspan Environmental, was upbeat at yesterday's announcement.
He said: "We are delighted to significantly extend our already-strong association with Ulster Rugby by putting our name to such a wonderful sporting venue."
And underlining just how lucrative a deal with Ulster Rugby could now prove to be, Logan told the Belfast Telegraph: "Our television viewing figures are now, on a pro rata, in the PRO12 higher than any of our competitors.
"And with the league now moving to a combination of both BBC NI and Sky – and therefore a greater worldwide audience – that will benefit Kingspan and ourselves."
As for the lengthy nature of the undertaking he agreed: "It's a 10-year deal and that's a long time in business. We've got to mutually earn the right to do business with each other for another 10, 15, 20 years beyond that."
Earlier the CEO had told fellow Ulster Rugby officers and Kingspan representatives: "We have been seeking to find the right naming-rights partner and now as we come to the conclusion of its £22m redevelopment we believe this is the right time and partner.
"Rugby in Ulster is not simply the professional team. It is currently 55 clubs, several hundred schools and 35,000 players.
"And in the same way in which we are deeply indebted to the Northern Ireland Executive and DCAL for funding this magnificent stadium, we cannot do it unless there is partnership across all parts of the nine counties of Ulster.
"We have sought the correct sponsor to pair with, one with an outstanding international reputation, one which is an Ulster-based company, one which shares our ambition to be the very best.
"I don't know if people are aware of it but in the £22m (it cost to rebuild the stadium) are many hundreds of thousands of pounds of Kingspan products, so they are also now in our fabric and in our DNA.
"We have been proud to be associated with Kingspan for the past 15 years. We look forward to growing this relationship, helping to grow the success of the Kingspan brand and using the investment to grow the game at all levels."
What the deal means for Ulster
With £4m coming Ulster's way as a result of the stadium re-naming deal confirmed yesterday, that looks like a windfall.
But that Kingspan money — which is spread over 10 seasons — has to go a very long way, with rugby at every level in the province having needs which must be met.
John Robinson, President of the IRFU's Ulster Branch, alluded to this when he said: “Rugby has never been stronger in Ulster and partnerships such as this will enable us to continue to grow the game at club and schools level and to remain competitive both in Europe and the PRO12.”
And just who are Kingspan?
Although they have their global headquarters in County Cavan, Kingspan have bases in 45 countries across the world, including one in Portadown.
A leader in timber-frame construction, the company specialise in insulation panels and boards for roofs, walls and floors of many different types of buildings from schools, libraries, residential properties and offices blocks.
Last year they recorded a profit of some €123m and Kingspan sit securely as one of the top 20 companies listed on Irish Stock Exchange.
What does £4m buy them?
Kingspan Stadium is owned by the IRFU and is the home of rugby in Ulster.
Formerly a camogie ground, it first staged a rugby match on January 12, 1924 when Ulster hosted Leinster.
In 2012, Ulster Rugby secured £16.5m from the Northern Ireland Executive for redevelopment. Three new stands were built, raising capacity from 11,400 to 18,000.
The new stadium is Ulster’s professional training base, consisting of a 7,000 square foot gym, meeting rooms and medical facilities.
Kingspan Stadium hosts at least 15 Ulster matches a season.