Players on a winner as appeal of Irish squad sparks marketing scrum

“HI my name is Donncha and as you may know already, I indeed am a sex god! I play for Munster and wait, wait... I’m on the Irish squad.”

This is the modest introduction on the Bebo site claiming to be that of the Munster and Ireland lock, Donncha O’Callaghan.

It’s the combination of his local and national success in rugby and his ability to attract some non-rugby watching female fans, that has made O’Callaghan an advertiser’s dream. First it was the shower ads, now the image of him wearing nothing but underwear has everyone talking.

The current Irish rugby team has generated an unprecedented image and profile and has become the most commercially successful ever in terms of sponsorship and advertising deals.

Advertising expert Stuart Fogarty, of AFA O’Meara advertising agency, said some Irish players are earning up to €250,000 a year in deals.

“The estimate is that rugby players should double their salaries through sponsorship — that’s the golden rule. That is being done by many of the big players. Obviously the captain, Brian O’Driscoll, and the fly half, Ronan O’Gara, have higher value than others because they are key players,” he said.

O’Driscoll’s commercial interests are handled by his father, Frank, ODM and Promotions Ltd. The company’s balance sheet, dated August 2006, shows profits of €620,000, helped by ads for Adidas and Gillette.

John Redmond, from Slattery Communications, who looks after sponsor-ship for the Irish Rugby Football Union, said it has about 25 sponsorship deals, which bring in about €15 million a year.

“We’re at a time when the success of Irish rugby has never been so great. We have come through a period where we have won three triple crowns and almost won the grand slam. That generates its own interest, and combined with the style of the team and how they play, it has created a new phenomenon where the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Gordon D’Arcy and O’Driscoll are household names.”

Mr Fogarty said rugby offers an image that businesses want to be associated with because it is predominantly a middle-class sport.

He said it is also driven by the players themselves.

“The players don’t earn huge salaries, they probably earn in a year what a soccer player earns in a week. So their salaries need to be topped-up through commercial deals.

“They are only players for five or six years so they have to strike while the market is hot,” said Mr Fogarty.

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