The Right Partner - An insight to Club Sponsorship

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have come a long way from their humble beginnings as the People's Club in the heart of Redfern. The age of professional sports, something that is entwined in the history and fabric of Rugby League history, has left a strong impression on the way clubs and organizations must operate to stay alive and competitive.

Today the Rabbitohs are a $30 million business, and while just over one-third of this revenue is driven by combined Television Rights deals, the Club's direct revenue streams, primarily Membership, Merchandise, Ticketing and of course Sponsorship, are vital to the Club's capability to field a competitive team for the enjoyment of the whole community.

In this regard, the Rabbitohs are unique in the Rugby League landscape; by having no licensed Leagues Club to assist with the funding of its football operations, the Club must operate as the benchmark in all areas of its business off the field. We have the second highest Club Membership in the NRL (behind only Brisbane who enjoys the benefit of being a one team town), and are widely considered the benchmark in Rugby League for its Merchandise and Fan Development programs.

One of the fundamental pillars of any modern professional sporting organization is sponsorship and corporate partnerships. Sponsorship first made its mark on the world of Rugby League in the late 1970s, and the Rabbitohs made history by becoming the first club to appear on television with a sponsor on the front of their Jersey - the airline V.I.P.

The Rabbitohs 1977 team photo - the second season that featured jersey sponsor "V.I.P.
The Rabbitohs 1977 team photo - the second season that featured jersey sponsor "V.I.P.

Since then, the Rabbitohs have enjoyed a number of high profile, stable and mutually beneficial partnerships over the last decade. In an ever-evolving corporate landscape driven by rapid developments in technology, the Rabbitohs are committed to maintaining a portfolio of corporate partnerships based on mutual understanding of the Club's core beliefs, and the ability to provide mutually beneficial outcomes for the Club, the partner and for Members and fans.

When asked what makes a successful partnership, Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly said that a genuine understanding of the Club's values are vital; excellence, inclusiveness and the importance of our place in the community.

Mr. Solly said that the process of identifying the right kind of partner, though sometimes arduous and lengthy, is vital to establishing the winning relationships that the Rabbitohs are renowned for.

"If there is no alignment between values or the outcomes that can be driven by each party, a bad partnership can feel a lot like a bad relationship - and when there is significant investment involved it is crucial that we take the time to explore all opportunities to identify the right kind of partner and how we can add value for each other," Mr Solly said.

it is crucial that we take the time to explore all opportunities to identify the right kind of partner and how we can add value for each other,"

Blake SollyRabbitohs CEO

2019 begins as a period of transition for the Rabbitohs in many ways, with the most successful Rugby League coach of all time, Wayne Bennett, joining the most successful Rugby League club of all time. It is also a time of change in the sponsorship space, with some exciting opportunities being presented to the Club's existing and potential partners.

Wayne Bennett at Rabbitohs training
Wayne Bennett at Rabbitohs training

When asked for comment, the Rabbitohs' Chief Commercial Officer Shannon Donato said that ensuring that we maintain the right 'fit' is paramount to successful partnerships.

"In a fast-paced and rapidly changing economy, the needs of business and partners change," said Mr. Donato.

"Our relationship with Fujitsu is a great example of the Club's ability to adapt to this; they originally wanted to increase their retail sales in the brand market and brand recall. We did a very good job in helping them achieve that by featuring them across our away apparel. They now want to increase their market share commercially with a business-to-business focus, so we are helping them through our sponsor network to sell air conditioners on a commercial scale.

"We've delivered over $7 million worth of business-to-business opportunities for Fujitsu."

When speaking about finding the right partner to replace the apparel assets previously occupied by Fujitsu, Mr. Donato again stressed that ensuring that the Club has alignment with potential partners is paramount to the success of the relationship.

"By taking our time to find the right partners, it means we will have partners that are in it for the long term," Mr Donato said.

"They will not only be partners that are a good fit for our Members and supporters, but they will stay with us in the long term because they are achieving those returns.

"One of the things that means for our Members is more consistent branding across our apparel. While it might take a bit longer in the courting process early to make sure we enter with the right partners, it means we will hold on to them for a lot longer and have consistency with our apparel branding."

Shannon DonatoRabbitohs CCO

Today, we unveil a new major partnership with long-time partners Alcatel. For the first time, Alcatel will feature on the front of the Away jersey, the culmination of an eight-year partnership founded on the mutual values and benefits that the Club covets.

"Alcatel has been a highly valued partner of the Rabbitohs for eight years now, and their commitment to our Club is nothing short of outstanding," Mr. Solly said.

"To see them increase their involvement through the away jersey partnership is a real boon for our Club, as we share so many of the same values and vision for our businesses."

Damien Cook models the 2019 Rabbitohs Away Jersey featuring Alcatel and Zoom
Damien Cook models the 2019 Rabbitohs Away Jersey featuring Alcatel and Zoom ©Michaella Knight

The announcement of Alcatel follows the news that international video conferencing leaders Zoom will adorn the sternum position on the jersey for the next two seasons.

Zoom and Alcatel are two examples of the right kind of partner for our proud Club. Both relationships are founded on the respect of the Club's values and the opportunity to drive mutual benefit and growth, propelling Club and Partner to new heights for the benefit of our Members and supporters.

While some Members may be eager to see the fruits of these negotiations and to get their hands on the jersey that will be featured during the 2019 season, Mr. Donato has ensured that they won't have to wait too much longer.

"We are excited that we are deep in discussions with a number of potential senior partnerships which tick all of the boxes for what we are looking for, and we are looking forward to announcing these partnerships in the coming weeks."

Shannon DonatoRabbitohs CCO