THE next phase of BT’s multi-million pound investment in Scottish rugby was revealed yesterday when it was confirmed the telecoms and broadcasting giant will replace RBS as the shirt sponsor for all Scotland national teams.
It is almost a year since BT announced a major four-year deal with Scottish Rugby, believed to be in the region of £20 million, which included the naming rights for Murrayfield. The company has been the shirt sponsor for both pro teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, for the past season but will now also be emblazoned on the front of all national teams, including the senior men’s and women’s sides.
The three-year deal amounts to extra investment, on top of that which was struck last May and, although the actual figure has not been disclosed, the SRU confirmed that it is the biggest-ever shirt deal the organisation has negotiated. The new kits will be unveiled later in the year and will be worn first in the Rugby World Cup warm-up games – the first of which takes place against Ireland in Dublin on August 15. Shirt sponsorship is not permitted at the World Cup itself, but BT will be on the training kit.
While yesterday’s announcement centred on the pinnacle of the elite game in Scotland, both BT and the SRU were keen to stress that one of the partnerships key aims is to grow the game at grassroots level.
They hope to provide stability to the club game through a £1.6m four-year injection and to push forward with an ambitious, nationwide academies system which it is hoped will produce a high number of talented youngsters to drive Scotland on to greater success in the future.
The first of those academies is now in place in and ready to go Aberdeen, with a further three throughout the country expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks and months.
SRU president Ian Rankin is convinced that investment in youth development will provide the biggest legacy of BT’s involvement, with a broadening of the game’s base outside the current stranglehold of four or five private schools being a key objective.
“There is a new youth and schools policy that a lot of work is getting put into,” said Rankin. “It is absolutely right that there is a group [of schools] at the top who are so far away from the rest because they have employed directors of rugby and there are scholarships for these schools.
“But there are moves afoot where we will see improvement on that front. Some of our schools have a long way to go. They are introducing the game to people who haven’t seen it before and it’s basically a numbers game. “Everybody that the BT money finds its way to isn’t going to be an elite athlete running out here at BT Murrayfield but, if we can get them to just start playing rugby and grow the numbers out there, it will be a success.
“That top group [of private schools] has been doing particularly well and it’s important to widen that base as much as we possibly can”
Rankin pointed to recent good results at youth level as reasons for optimism.
He said: “Both national age-group sides have done pretty well this year and that is a process we’ve just started. It’s long term. But we’ve got a few diamonds out there and I hope this is going to help us discover even more.”
Scottish Rugby’s director of commercial operations, corporate affairs and communications Dominic McKay added: “BT has invested in us because the want Scottish rugby to develop. You don’t make an investment as sizeable as they have made without recognising that the development takes a period of time so the key thing for us is the academies.
“The first initial investment was around Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby as principal shirt sponsors, which has helped us enhance and develop both those brands.
“You can see the success of Glasgow, who are currently sitting top of the Guinness PRO12 and Edinburgh this weekend are, of course, fighting for a place in the final of a European competition. That’s incredible.”
Results in the RBS Six Nations were not so good, with Scotland losing every game, but director of BT Scotland Brendan Dick said: “This is a long-term relationship so I think it would be premature at this stage to speculate at the value [of the sponsorship to BT]. What’s key to me is that the set-up that Scottish Rugby has got going here is multi-faceted and I genuinely believe it will be successful.”