Vodafone is taking a punt on the British & Irish Lions signing up as lead partner of next year’s tour to South Africa, in a show of faith in international tours despite the uncertainty over future waves of the coronavirus.
The mobile phone company will be lead partner and shirt sponsor of next summer’s tour to face rugby’s world champions, after striking a deal of faith hammered out as the health emergency shut down global sport.
“We have been in discussions for a while through the challenges we have been facing recently,” said Max Taylor, commercial director at Vodafone. “We think it is a really important time for big brands to stand up, be present, act responsibly and support sport. Sport has had its challenges and needs help and it is important to step up.”
Vodafone, which follows Standard Life as the lead sponsor of the quadrennial tour alternating between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, said that as well as the hoped for commercial benefits the concept of the Lions sends a positive message in such uncertain times.
“It is a poignant time and the Lions is the best example of unification that we could find,” said Taylor. “From our perspective we are super excited about the partnership, it unifies the home nations, the whole of Ireland and brings together family, friends, it spans generations.” Vodafone will push the sponsorship, which includes exclusive access to tickets, experiences and merchandise, with a marketing campaign using the strap line Unite The Pride.
Taylor admits that a key draw is the timing of the tour, South Africa has just a one-hour time difference with the UK, and the three Test series has been rescheduled to fit with the UK summer school holidays. He also says that naturally a part of the deal talks related to the unknown factor of whether coronavirus might still impact sports tours next year.
“Clearly there are concerns and there are contingency plans in place,” he says. “We have taken that into consideration. The Lions made the decision to go ahead, now we are there to support them.”
Last week, Sky struck a deal for the exclusive TV rights to broadcast its seventh successive Lions tour, with the partnership marking a quarter of a century in 2021.