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Six Nations struggling to secure new sponsor for 2018

Only one offer currently on the table following RBS decision to end 14-year deal

Only one offer to sponsor the Six Nations is currently on the table, and it is significantly less than the €12.4 million received from RBS in 2017. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Economic uncertainty caused by Brexit has plunged the Six Nations into crisis as their six-year, €113 million sponsorship plans have been scuppered.

Despite an initial vision to expand into “markets like the USA,” the championship has yet to secure a title sponsor for 2018.

The Observer reports that tournament executives are working on a tight deadline after struggling to find a replacement for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which last season ended a lucrative 14-year partnership.

“The Six Nations is the biggest sponsorship in world rugby by a country mile,” said chief executive John Feehan in January. “We’ve been in contact with well over 150 companies and we’re in a very good place.

“It is not just about being the highest bidder,” Feehan continued. “We want a sponsor who’s actively engaged not just in Britain but around the world and see potential in markets like the USA.”

However, circumstances have changed significantly with only one offer currently on the table, and it is significantly less than the €12.4 million received from RBS in 2017.

The tournament committee met last week and decided a new deal must be agreed by October. While there has been interest from potential sponsors, there is concern that further delay could lead to the only offer being withdrawn.

If the Six Nations begins without a sponsor on February 3rd, when Ireland go to Paris, IRFU finances would suffer badly. The union announced a deficit of €2.8 million for the 2016-2017 season, the first time there’s been a shortfall since 2007-2008.

“It is not the union’s usual practice to budget for a deficit and we expect to return to break even next season however it is important to note that a number of the provinces will be budgeting for a deficit this season but that is not sustainable long term and must be addressed,” said IRFU honorary treasurer Tom Grace in July.

“The union and provinces had a good year off the field and this has fed into the union’s financial result for the year with the €2.8m deficit being some €1.9m better than budgeted.

Prize money

“The combination of prize money and an increase in [sponsorship] contract amounts outweighed the negative impact of exchange rates on Six Nations broadcasting income.”

However, that prize money could dip considerably in 2018.

Companies are often reluctant to become involved after a long-serving backer exits, and it was a constant struggle for RBS to have the media to include its sponsorship when talking or writing about the tournament.

Also, the market in sport has tightened after a period of boom.

Premiership Rugby failed to find a replacement headline sponsor for Aviva this season after a long search. The company agreed to carry on for another year but for a heavily discounted price – believed to be a 30 per cent reduction – and the fears of some unions in the Six Nations is that far from securing a bumper package, they will be fortunate to even match the amount RBS paid.

If no firm offer is forthcoming in the coming days, the instruction from the Six Nations committee is to take the one offer on the table and accept the drop in revenue.

Meanwhile, the return of Leinster’s touring Lions Jack McGrath and Robbie Henshaw, along with Devin Toner and Wallaby international Scott Fardy, is expected to be offset by Isa Nacewa facing a period on the sidelines.

The club captain suffered a calf injury against the Cheetahs last Friday following 10 flights in 12 days due to a mix up over visa requirements for New Zealanders entering South Africa.