The search is on for a new title sponsor of the Six Nations after Lloyds TSB today announced they would not be continuing their five-year association with championship.
The first, and to date, only title sponsor of the tournament opted not to renew their deal, which expired at the end of last season’s competition, in favour of exploring other sponsorship possibilities.
However, Lloyds TSB’s decision to withdraw hands the Six Nations an ideal opportunity to maximise the commercial pulling power of a tournament which has benefited from rugby’s increased profile in the professional era.
Although sponsorship of the Six Nations no longer fits into Lloyds TSB’s ‘‘business objectives’’, the British banking giant admitted the championship remains an extremely valuable commodity with which to be associated.
The competition is now a pan-European event, following the inclusion of Italy in 2000, and with a vast audience worldwide it is no surprise the Six Nations have already fielded bids from a number of multi-national companies anxious to replace Lloyds TSB as holder of the title deeds.
Six Nations commercial director John Feehan said: ‘‘Even at this early stage, I am pleased to be able to say that we are receiving significant expressions of interest in the future title sponsorship of the championship from a number of major blue-chip companies.
‘‘The Six Nations marketplace comprises approximately 180 million of the most affluent consumers on the planet, and throughout our territory there is a growing commitment to rugby, not to mention an ever stronger and developing supporter base.
‘‘Our matches in 2002 were attended by almost one million people, with 100 million more watching on television. This is by far the biggest and most successful annual rugby tournament in the world, and a powerful platform from which to develop our commercial partnerships.’’
Lloyds TSB have announced that, while sponsorship of the tournament itself is no longer suitable for the company, they do intend to maintain an interest in the game.
Their association with grass-roots rugby has already included sponsorship of the Rugby Club Tour, Dragons Rugby Trust Schools League in Wales and the Live! programme, aimed at introducing youngsters to the sport.
Six Nations Committee chairman Allan Hosie paid tribute to the work done by Lloyds TSB in helping promote the game throughout the northern hemisphere.
He said: ‘‘We would like to thank Lloyds TSB for their sponsorship of the championship. Our relationship with Lloyds TSB has been an example of true partnership rather than just sponsorship.
‘‘They were our first ever title sponsors and have been a supportive and generous partner to us and to northern hemisphere rugby.’’
Lloyds TSB are working on a number of sponsorship projects and have not ruled out investing in other sports, but they are certainly looking at prolonging their investment in rugby below international level.
A company spokesman said: ‘‘While we are not renewing our contract with the Six Nations we have invested a lot of equity in rugby and will have a rugby element to whatever our future sponsorship is.
‘‘Our investment has been from grass roots to the top international level and much of that will continue
‘‘In terms of specific deals, not everything is in place, but we are exploring a number of areas. We are still looking at having investment in rugby after what we have built up over the last five years.’’
Jon Phelps, head of Lloyds TSB’s group sponsorship, added: ‘‘We do not intend to move away from our interest in rugby and are exploring other opportunities in international and grass-roots rugby which we feel might better meet our business objectives at this time.’’
‘‘We feel very proud to have been the first ever sponsor of the Six Nations Championship and of our involvement in the most prestigious, annual rugby competition in the world.’’