IF YOU were picking the perfect poster boy for the Scottish Rugby Union’s newest sponsorship deal with Irn-Bru manufacturers AG Barr then you couldn’t do much better than Rob Harley.
Tall but powerfully built, with pale skin and a vibrant thatch of red hair, the 24-year-old certainly looks a typical tartan warrior – and when you consider his formidable achievement in playing with unwavering aggression in every one of Glasgow Warriors’ 24 league games last season, you can’t help but think of that famous catchline about being made in Scotland from girders.
So, it was no surprise that the big back-rower was one of four leading Scottish players present at Scotstoun yesterday to unveil the deal which will see the national team, the Sevens squad, and the country’s two professional clubs supported for the next two seasons by a range of brands, which also includes Strathmore spring water and Barr Cola.
The SRU don’t comment on the value of sponsorship deals, but it is understood to be worth a significant six-figure sum.
None of the brands involved will be on strips, but the drinks will be widely available on match days – and the SRU are clearly hoping to benefit from Barr’s renowned marketing expertise, with Irn-Bru in particular having a long history of being the focus of memorable advertising campaigns.
“They are an iconic Scottish business with great brands which will come to life with Scottish rugby supporters over the coming years – both on match days when the products will be available to supporters but also through AG Barr’s wonderful and innovative marketing which will help promote the game of rugby across the length and breadth of Scotland,” said Dominic McKay, the SRU’s director of commercial operations, communications and public affairs.
Rugby players don’t tend to trouble themselves too much thinking about the commercial implications of deals such as this, but the significance of linking up with such a highly regarded product was not lost on Harley.
“It’s great they are now backing Scottish rugby. It is massive as it is a real ubiquitous name across Scotland. It’s a reflection of the type of serious sponsors we are getting now, they are the leaders across their fields in every area,” he said.
Harley reckons that recent successes by the SRU in terms of attracting high profile sponsorship deals, including the selling of naming rights for Murrayfield Stadium to BT for a figure reputed to be worth £20 million, is a reflection of the rising profile of the game in this country – and Glasgow Warriors have been at the forefront of that process.
While the national team looked rudderless for most of last season without a permanent head coach in place, and the wheels came off the Edinburgh bandwagon, the Warriors broke new ground by becoming the first team to reach the final of the Pro 12 – with record crowds being attracted to Scotstoun during a thrilling run-in.
“We had to put up extra stands to pack the people in and even then we were still selling out. That’s an amazing situation for the club to be in now, especially when you look back a few seasons and we were maybe getting three thousand fans in,” said Harley.
“When you have between 8,000 and 10,000 people roaring you on then it is a hard place for people to come and play. It allows us to make Scotstoun a real fortress,” he added.
Harley insists that there is no danger of the team resting on their laurels – with the recent success of the Commonwealth Games providing a vivid demonstration of the potential that sports other than football now have when it comes to capturing the imagination of the city.
“The atmosphere around rugby was electric after the Commonwealth Games especially with Ibrox being filled out for the Sevens. Everyone I talked to thought it was an amazing event. It provided a real showcase for the game,” said Harley.
“Then, last week we had a team-building exercise where we had to hand over our wallets and our phones then get up to Stirling by selling match tickets to pay for our train fare. We had 20 tickets and had to go to places all over Glasgow such as the Emirates Stadium, Glasgow Airport, the BT Building, the Apple store and Waxy O’Connor’s bar, where we had to complete challenges to try and raise the money. And the amount of support we had just by running through the streets trying to sell people tickets was amazing.
“More people are definitely aware of what’s going on and have heard about what’s happening at Scotsoun.”
All of which points to another exhilarating spectacle when champions Leinster arrive at Scotstoun for the first league match of the season. Having lost to the Dubliners in the Grand Final less than two months ago, it is little wonder that Harley and his team-mates feel they have a score to settle.
“Last season we set our goal to win the title and we fell short at the last step so we are using that as a major motivator. Now it’s all about the new season and what is driving us on is the fact we have fallen short so we need to improve and be better this season than we have ever been before,” Harley concluded.