Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland businesses get teeth into the Rugby World Cup

By Claire McNeilly

For rugby fans, it's the greatest show on earth... but how are local businesses tackling the 2015 World Cup?

There's bound to be a scrum for takings over the course of the 44-day extravaganza, which kicks off tomorrow when co-hosts England take on Fiji at Twickenham.

The event has grown into the world's third largest sporting tournament and is expected to generate almost £2.2bn for the British economy in general.

And with seven Ulster players in the Ireland squad which departed from Dublin Airport last night and will begin their campaign on Saturday against Canada in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, interest is rising to fever pitch.

Rugby fans, traditionally, are big spenders, and with this year's tournament so close to home, significant business opportunities abound.

Take Ulster Weavers, the Holywood-based home textile and linen company, for instance.

They are an official licensee for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and recently launched their official kitchen textiles range in time for the tournament.

Five new limited edition collections have been created, consisting of bags, aprons and cotton tea towels.

Some bespoke tea towels feature, for example, English roses, Irish shamrocks, Scottish thistles and Welsh daffodils and prices range from £8.75 to £20.

Commercial director Wendy Hamilton said the firm has made a large investment in the creation and manufacture of the new designs, which they expect will be lucrative.

"Working with the RWC has been a great opportunity to expand our business further into different sectors, especially with professional sporting organisations," she said.

"We are also working with 12 other rugby unions in conjunction with the main event to provide bespoke tea towels based on national symbols and emblems.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to export Northern Irish goods around the globe and introduce new audiences to quality textiles for the home."

Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster said the RWC was really important to his industry.

"Things like the Rugby World Cup or the football World Cup bring people into pubs, restaurants and hotels," he said. "Our business is occasion based and this creates an opportunity for people to come out and meet friends. We're confident that we'll see a substantial economic boost."

The Fountain Tavern in Belfast city centre is offering customers 50p off a pint per Irish try during the tournament, which he hopes will bolster his clientele.

Owner Sean Murray said: "It's something a bit different - seven tries during Ireland matches will get punters a free pint." Meanwhile, The Cultra Inn in Holywood has launched a host of meal deals and is offering customers a chance to win an Ireland rugby shirt.

Helping to push their business is Stephen Ferris, one of Ireland's leading lights in the last World Cup but, sadly, now permanently sidelined by a severe ankle injury.

The ex-Ulster flanker will be busy on the corporate side over the next few weeks, promoting the likes of Heineken beer, Lidl stores, Ladbrokes bookmakers and Hastings Hotels.

On Saturday Ferris will be special guest at The Albany on Belfast's Lisburn Road, which is screening the Ireland game.

Meanwhile, John Miskimmon, a sales executive at Belfast sports outlet SS Moore, said business is booming. "We sell all the home nation and southern hemisphere shirts but obviously Ireland is our biggest seller across the board," he said. "The products went on sale a couple of months ago and we've been going full tilt since then. The Ireland range is doing extremely well in the home market and it's also very popular with tourists coming off cruise ships. We are expecting a huge economic boost from the tournament and the further Ireland go, the bigger the hype, the more products people want and the more we'll sell."

An Ireland shirt will set you back £60 or £65 (with an offical RWC logo), with associated items costing a little less - a cap for £12, beanie £13, Ireland scarf for £12, a RWC scarf for £15, or a polo shirt for £25 or £30.

The marketing manager at Quinn's Coach Hire in Ardboe, Hugh McCloy, said they'd had a number of calls from local companies regarding corporate trips to big games although, because tickets have been so hard to obtain north of the border, most of the hospitality packages emanate from Dublin.

"So far we've got two bookings for 37-seaters, that we sold for £2,500 each, so the World Cup has been good for us," he said.

Belfast Telegraph