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Andy Wilson | Fan-Pro

Rugby League Correspondent and Cricket Writer, Guardian

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End of the road for Stobart

Andy Wilson     on 31 Jul 1:03 pm     Rugby League     1,364   0  

You know that line "I don't like to say I told you so, but..."? Well there are plenty of people entitled to say that today, after confirmation that Stobart's Super League sponsorship has run out of fuel less than a third of the way through a three-year deal.

Actually the people most entitled to say it, Adam Pearson and Neil Hudgell - who as the chairmen of Hull and Hull KR made their opposition to the deal most clear from the day it was announced - would probably just stick with "I told you so", as neither comes across as the shy and retiring type.

As someone who tried to see the positives in the deal, I'd argue that their corporate irresponsibility played a small part in condemning it to failure. The Hull clubs were among the minority who were outvoted by those Super League representatives who took a gamble on the publicity and visibility that might be provided through Stobart ahead of a modest financial package from Betfair. But instead of accepting that and trying to make the best of it, their opposition became public knowledge rapidly.

So the split in Super League ranks, and the lack of cash in the deal, became the story, rather than the striking possibility of lorries bearing the faces of Kevin Sinfield and Sam Tomkins zooming around the nation's motorways.

Having said all that, it has since become clear that the deal contained so many flaws it would have unravelled anyway. For starters, Stobart never showed any enthusiasm for the sponsorship. Perhaps that's not surprising, as they're not the sort of company that usually goes in for sport sponsorship. Surely someone at the Rugby Football League should have thought of that before doing the deal, rather than grumbling quietly about it afterwards.

The problem for the RFL and the Super League clubs now is that the damage from this whole episode could take a while to repair. That presumably explains the desperate tone of the official press release that appeared on the Super League website today.

It begins badly enough: "Rugby League’s flagship competition, the Super League, has begun the search for a new title sponsor from the 2013 season onwards to build on its successful marketing collaboration with the Stobart Group." Successful in what way, exactly? In lasting for more than half a season? But there is much worse to follow.

I've never met James Mercer, who is extensively quoted in the release as Super League's Commercial Director. But if and when I do, I'm not sure I'll be able to believe a word he says.

“We are delighted at the success of our one-year partnership with Stobart and the exposure that this ground-breaking concept has created." (So again, why exactly is it ending, James?)

“The partnership has placed the sport in a wonderful position to move into the next cycle of our commercial strategy in 2013." (Ah, it's the next cycle. Because obviously it's much easier to sell naming rights to companies who know you gave them away last time)

“Innovation has always been at the heart of the Super League and this collaboration showcased the creativity and unity of our clubs." (No comment necessary here, he really is insulting the intelligence of anyone who's still reading)

“With a combined TV audience of over 25 million, huge attendance levels and a national and international expansion the sport is well-placed for an exciting future."

Actually that last bit could be fair enough, and as a non-expert I'd have thought Super League remains a pretty attractive commodity for a sponsor, which has always been reasonably priced. I'd be inclined to set up a new negotiating team of S Tomkins, K Sinfield, J Wilkin, J Peacock, L Briers and a few of the other blokes who make it so attractive, rather than the off-field plonkers who have managed to make the game a laughing stock once again.

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