English rugby’s brand can still recover

The shrapnel from English rugby’s explosive self-destruction still has some time to settle but no permanent damage has been done to the national team’s image, a sponsorship expert said on Thursday.

Lurid headlines this week littered the British media after a leaked confidential report into England’s World Cup debacle was published by the Times newspaper.

Within the report England players held nothing back in their criticism of each other, coach Martin Johnson and the English coaching team, producing a litany of complaints illustrating a fractured set-up.

With no permanent chief executive yet in place at the Rugby Football Union (RFU), no national coach appointed and a disunited and disillusioned playing staff, morale within the England camp could hardly be lower as the nation looks to build before hosting the next World Cup in 2015.

Despite all this, major sponsors are unlikely to desert England, according to an industry expert.

Dismal campaign
“The England ‘brand’ is certainly blemished right now but not permanently,” said James Scholefield, senior vice-president of sponsorship consultants Repucom International.

“And the reasons why the RFU is able to attract investment from blue-chip sponsors remain intact, despite the on and off-field failings of the World Cup.”

Major commercial sponsors of the RFU include sportswear and equipment supplier Nike, telecommunications provider O2 and Tata Motors-owned car manufacturer Land Rover.

Eight years ago England’s golden team surged to World Cup glory down under with victory over hosts Australia in the final in Sydney.

This year in New Zealand, their dismal campaign will be best remembered for poor discipline and poor decisions both on and off the pitch.

Sensational headlines
The 2011 team was beaten by France in the quarter-finals but not before providing a series of sensational headlines for off-field antics which included drinking and partying.

The negative headlines continued after their exit from the tournament with one player jumping from an Auckland ferry.

Vice-captain Mike Tindall was belatedly fined €25 000 pounds for his drunken behaviour during an infamous night out at a bar in Queenstown.

Other players were seen wrestling and posing for photographs with dwarves at the bar which was hosting a “Mad Midget Weekender”.

The England camp sought to defend Tindall but the incident refused to die down and haunted the squad for the duration of the tournament. Several comments in the leaked players’ report were critical of the England management’s handling of the incident as well as Tindall’s actions.

“Rugby embodies certain values and codes that businesses both admire and aspire to, and dwarf-tossing, or a player diving off a ferry, doesn’t suddenly mean those values are cast asunder,” Scholefield said.

‘Moral bankruptcy’
“In fact, the way the RFU has dealt with Mike Tindall by fining him and dropping him from the elite squad suggests to me that the RFU is doing more than many other governing bodies would do to put their house in order.

“Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that England have by many people’s reckoning a pretty talented bunch of young players at their disposal and are hosting the rugby World Cup in 2015.

“For those reasons, the England rugby team still remains one of the most attractive sporting brands for sponsors to be associated with. And let’s face it, rugby has a long way to fall before it joins football in moral bankruptcy.”

The RFU said on Wednesday it would bring in outsiders to help identify the source of the leaked documents.

The Rugby Players’ Association, which compiled the players’ comments for the report while ensuring their anonymity, said it was appalling the review had been made public.

“Our players were assured that their feedback would be totally confidential and yet no sooner has the report been sent to the Board Members than it appears in a national newspaper … it is an absolute disgrace,” RPA chief Damian Hopley said. — Reuters

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