Vodafone’s sponsorship of the 2021 Lions tour will be in the region of a staggering 1,800 per cent mark-up on the £350,000 deal they struck for their first-ever sponsorship with Scottish Provident in 1997.
Since rugby went professional, the value of being the Lions’ lead sponsor has attracted plenty of blue-chip companies, including HSBC (2009, 2013), Zurich (2005) and now Vodafone. But in 1997, the strength of the Lions brand was a complete unknown.
“As the tour got nearer we realised we were the only player in town,” sports marketeer John Perera – representing Scottish Provident at the time – told TRP.
“We offered £350,000, and they took it. That was quite an eye opener about the perceived value of the Lions shirt in those days. Scottish Provident got a massive return on their investment.”
Not only did the Lions win the Test series in South Africa but Sky’s television coverage captured the immensity of the victory, transmitting it to an audience back home.
“The performance on the field was terrific,” adds John. “And people lived it with the players, watching it at the same time of day. And off the field it was a great success as well with the Living with the Lions video being the stand-out documentary in sports.
“Adidas being the kit supplier was very useful as they made and sold lots of shirts so in 1997 Scottish Provident were on the front of a lot of shirts. I remember going to Wimbledon that summer and seeing people sitting on centre court wearing Lions shirts and that’s the extra stuff you get.”
The 1997 success has led to that tour’s borderline iconic status within rugby, meaning that images of victorious Lions players with Scottish Provident emblazoned across their chests are commonly recycled in the media, and easily recalled by fans.
While the value of Vodafone’s sponsorship deal has not been made public, it is understood to be close to the price Standard Life paid for their lead sponsorship of the 2017 tour – around £6.25m – a 1,800 per cent mark-up on the 1997 deal.
The fact Vodafone have committed in such uncertain times is a show of faith in the power of the Lions brand. Sport sponsorship guru Giles Morgan – a driving force behind HSBC’s sponsorship of the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours – believes the deal is grounded in solid business acumen:
“Vodafone is a great sponsor in as far as they will be looking to activate it digitally through data capture, digital engagement, mobile phone technology and streaming.”