Diageo’s Head Of Sponsorship On Why Horse Racing & Rugby Is So Critical To Guinness

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With estimates that 13 million pints of the black stuff will be drank today on St. Patrick’s Day, and also its high profile sponsorship of the Six Nations Rugby Championship and Cheltenham horse racing festival coming to a close this weekend too, it is probably the busiest of busy times for Guinness, the iconic Irish stout.

Despite this, BusinessOfSport.Net sat down with Rory Sheridan, Head of Sponsorship for Diageo in Western Europe, this week to discuss Guinness’ current priorities regarding sports sponsorship, how it is performing and where it might be heading next.

Rory Sheridan 26/8/2014
Rory Sheridan

The brand, especially in Ireland, was found to be the most admired sponsor, through sports amongst consumers, in that market in 2016 and its current portfolio of sport sponsorship is considerable, focusing on two key sports in Europe, rugby and horse racing. It currently sponsors Pro 12 Rugby, the Six Nations Rugby Championship and also the Cheltenham horse racing festival.

Given this clear focus on these two sports, is Guinness associated with one sport more than the other, by consumers, in Rory’s mind?

“The natural association between the brand and a particular sport or event would tend to vary depending on territory but from a European perspective I think it would be rugby through a combination of our sponsorships with teams, Unions and Championships,” he said.  

Rory outlined Guinness’ approach to rugby saying:

“Brand sponsorship is about supporting the passions of your target audience. Rugby as a theme has always been one of the most popular sports amongst Guinness consumers. It’s for that reason that we began investing in rugby sponsorship three decades ago and have continued to support the game to the extent that, in some of our markets, the brand is synonymous with the game of rugby.”

“Over the years, it has evolved to become a strong platform for us to tell compelling brand stories through our campaigns.”  

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As for its sponsorship of horse racing and the famous Cheltenham horse racing festival, which comes to a close today, he said that the sport is one “in which Guinness has a very strong heritage” which dates back as far as the 1970s.

Regarding the festival itself, he said: “Most importantly, it’s where our customers are enjoying these experiences. In terms of the importance of this event to our customers, Irish visitors spent more than €22 million at the festival last year, €4.5 million of which was on food & drink and they accounted for 30% of total punters at the event. So this is another key occasion in our customer’s year and where we can be a part of the experience they enjoy.”

Technology is now a key part of such experiences for Guinness. Rory said:

“Technology has had a profound effect on how our audience interact with the brand and, as such, we need to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of new developments in technology that enhance the overall brand experience. Our in-venue pouring experience is being upgraded and we are excited about our plans for the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in May.”

“Sponsorship has emerged as a rich source of content for brands and therefore every campaign will have a digital content plan built in to maximize that opportunity.  Digital is, in reality, just another medium by which we can interact and tell great brand stories.”

However, he did recognise some threats on the horizon to the sports sponsorship model.

“The TV broadcast rights model is in a state of flux and will be for some time to come, which does affect our ability to plan for the future to some extent.  How our customers interact with and consume sport and entertainment has changed at an alarming rate so the pressure is on brands to stay relevant and find the best ways to engage our target audience.”

Finally, with the rise of a host of new sports across the world, captivating consumers, such as UFC and eSports, does Guinness plan to sponsor any of these sports?

“We have no immediate plans to move into new sports however we are always assessing the effectiveness of the properties and themes we use to build brand campaigns.”

Regarding more specifically drone racing and eSports he concluded: “The growth within those sectors has been staggering in recent years, particularly in eSports which will this year top $1 billion in revenues. As fascinating as it is to see new sectors such as this emerge, it’s not an area that Diageo has plans to explore as a sponsorship option in the near future.”