Keywords: rugby, national identity, international brands, local markers, lifestyles
Within this interview, Paul Vaughan, Commercial Director of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), focuses on the challenges and opportunities that the sports industry faces from the transnational flow of capital, people, goods, services and images. Vaughan highlights the importance, even for an organisation keyed on the promotion, celebration and success of national identity, of engaging with and negotiating with the presence of transnational organisations, institutions and movements.
MS: Could we start off by talking a little bit about you in regard to your background, how you got to where you are now in the industry?
PV: I got into the business when I was working with Whitbread. I joined Whitbread in 1980 on the food and drinks side. I went there to open up the brewery as more of a commercial operation and as part of that we were trying to make the assets work a bit more in terms of the brewery itself.
The Stella Artois tennis tournament at Queens, for instance, was one of the events that Whitbread were fairly new into at the time. So we approached them with a view to saying could we do all the catering at the Stella Artois, and so from there we started to build into all the stuff that Whitbread were doing using the same resources but equally giving us some revenue. That was where my relationship started and then in 1984 I was invited to become sponsorship manager for Whitbread and it developed from there, through sponsorship director and marketing operations director, before I left in 1996 and joined Alan Pascoe in what was then API. Alan then sold out to the Interpublic group and we became Octagon. I basically ran the consultancy division of Octagon until I left there at the beginning of this year.
MS: You have probably seen some major developments in the last 10 years or so with regard to transformations within the industry. I look at Octagon's Web-site and they talk about the sport industry having taken on a completely new shape within the last 10 years. Could you outline some of those major transformations that you have seen, and been involved with, in the sports industry?
PV: I think professionalism would be the first one and its recognition of the business of marketing within sport. I won't call it sports marketing. Marketing within sport has been a serious discipline in terms of a brand reaching a particular interest group of people within particular socio-economic parameters and geographies. I suppose that's the biggest shift. I think as a result of that, as a cause of it, prices have all gone up dramatically. So the cost of entry into the market now is far higher than it ever was when the approach was very much value-for-money, needing a big return in terms of media against investment. Now it is not necessarily about media value. Media value is only a part, so now if you are an advertiser or marketer you are looking at trying to do two things. You are trying to change consumer behaviour and you are trying to change consumer attitude. So read into those in either order anything from awareness down to consideration down to actual purchase. That's what you are actually trying to achieve. So it is not just about sticking your name on something, signing the cheque and hoping for the best, which is probably what it used to be in the main a long time ago. Having said that, some people still have the primary objective of awareness, particularly when you have bigger groups who have just changed name, or merged and adapted their name, and are looking at trying to make a statement about scale and just trying to get the recognition of the marketplace. AXA is probably a good example. Lloyds TSB when they came together as the two brands was another good example and I guess people like CGMU, or Norwich Union as it is now, are also now going though this whole sort of shift.
MS: So the move to the RFU, you are now the commercial director, could you lust outline the main responsibilities involved in your role?
PV: It's fairly straightforward, I am responsible for all the income for the Union, and secondly to market the game.
MS: Market the game purely at an international level or the game generally?
PV: The whole game. That will cover things like how do we attract people to come and play it, how do we attract people to watch it, how do we keep people playing it once they come in. We have a drop-off of kids of the age of 16 who find other things to do as they come into their teenage years. Mostly beer, women and so on. We have got to find ways of keeping them within the game, as they get older. Some of them do come back at a later point but there is that gap where people end up dropping out.
MS: What type of strategy would you employ to try and maintain the interest?
PV: Early days at the moment, but we are already looking at if they are going elsewhere in order to do other things: the simple way of doing it would be how can I bring other things into the game in order to keep them there.
MS: Which I guess is an opportunity to bring in sponsorship and so forth to tie in products associated with that age group.
PV: Yes absolutely. It is changing some of the traditional aspects of the game. Not necessarily and not exclusively. It is how do we make the game attractive in the modern era. How do we make it relevant in terms of perceptions to younger people now? Like any product or brand we have to update it continually. While the way in which the game is played has been updated, the way in which it is structured and indeed made attractive to a younger audience has not changed, so we have to find ways of making it more interesting.
MS: What might some of the elements be of "making it more interesting"?
PV: I suppose it's easy to say it but making it sexy, how do we make our brand sexy to a 16-year-old, and is that through association with other sexy brands, Nike for instance. So the correlation between the two works together. I think there are lots of other things you can think through. Is it music? Is it about the way in which we present the game? Should we make Twickenham more accessible to kids, therefore giving them opportunities to actually come to some of the bigger games here? There are numerous things we can do, it is just a matter of getting there which will take time.
MS: It's my assumption, it could be off base, that the majority of youth would be consuming sport from television. As such does that way of thinking affect the way in which you would negotiate television rights, who you would negotiate with?
PV: They are not necessarily consuming the game through television. The total number in England is about nine million interested people in the game, of which about one-and-a-half million are the playing population. There is quite a substantial base. We are …