New sponsor: We’re in the business of making Edinburgh a top club
A SUCCESSFUL Edinburgh business which makes millions from selling software to American hospitals believes that the Scottish capital has the business acumen and rugby interest to make Edinburgh Rugby one of the strongest clubs in Europe.
Keith Neilson was announcing that, in the latest investment into the club, his firm, Craneware, had turned a £2,500 business club membership into a five-figure sponsorship deal from this season.
Born and raised in the Currie and Balerno area, Neilson founded Craneware with friend and fellow rugby enthusiast Gordon Craig in 1999, the year that Scotland won the last Five Nations Championship. The firm now employs over 220 staff in Edinburgh, has sites in the US, counts more than a quarter of the USA’s hospitals among its clients and last year turned over £25million.
Neilson and Craig represent the kind of successful entrepreneurs that Scottish rugby had been seeking to entice to get involved in the game, but with little success, in the first 17 years of professionalism.
However, joined by a handful of other business club members at yesterday’s announcement, Neilson explained that, while he had no interest in owning a rugby club, he was one of many corporate leaders to have become supporters of Edinburgh after joining the initiative launched by club chief executive Craig Docherty last year.
“Of the many successful sports clubs across the world, very few are actually run by one owner, and, when they are, it’s very risky,” said Neilson. “The English Premiership is struggling as a whole to make their clubs financially viable. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a lot of Stormers games in Cape Town, and they have a thriving business community that supports that great set-up. They take boxes at all the games. Boxes are like gold dust and are often passed down through generations and Craig and the team have created the genesis of that here.
“We have a thriving business club now that has gone from 20 to 60 firms in a year, and we have been impressed at the ability for Friday nights at Murrayfield to be both a good family night and a good business night. It is early days, but I’ve watched club, pro and international rugby all my life and I’ve watched the struggle of Scottish rugby to get pro rugby going but now feel that we’re moving. We have a great city, good businesses and are very lucky in Edinburgh to have many great ex-players supporting a great team. We can often go along to Edinburgh Rugby events with business clients and be met by a handful of British and Irish Lions, which is amazing. So why can’t Edinburgh become one of the top clubs?”
Neilson played for various clubs around the capital, so was destined to support the team, but acknowledged that it was the business club ethos which attracted his sponsorship.
“The business club got us interested in a network of people who are like-minded, like their rugby, and want to be able to socialise and network.
“As well as that, our staff and families enjoy the association, as a business we’ve seen benefits from that,” he said. “We have got suppliers out of new links made at business club events and new contacts across business that will be helpful going forward. One example is Dave Allan with Praxa, who is involved with software for hospitals and health care networks across the NHS. So we’ve spoken about developments and introductions in that area that will benefit both of us.
“That only came through the Edinburgh Rugby Business Club and I know of several relationships that have developed across other businesseses over the past year of the club.”
Neilson also spoke of the association with Edinburgh as having gone down well with staff here and in the US, with workers flying into Edinburgh for business and being taken to Murrayfield and “absolutely loving it”.
Docherty accepted that this year was the best yet to attract new investors, on the back of a Heineken Cup semi-final and an extra £1.2m funding for the team from the SRU.
The chief executive agreed that the next 12 months are vital to discover whether there is the necessary backing in the Scottish capital for a leading European rugby club. He added: “Scottish Rugby are giving us extra investment, which is fantastic, but they want results, on and off the field, and we are happy to rise to the challenge. That means growing the fanbase, selling more tickets, generating more event income, putting more bums on seats and winning games.
“When rugby went pro, if you’d given me a map of Britain and ten drawing pins, Edinburgh is one of the places I’d have put a pin in for a pro rugby club. Nothing has changed on that front. With the heritage we have of schools, clubs and university rugby in Edinburgh, the Borders, Tayside and Fife and what you have in George Street and beyond in regards to financial power, there is no reason why we can’t be successful.
“But the key is that people won’t invest unless they understand what they are investing in. What we are working hard to do is help people understand what it takes to run a professional rugby club. This deal with Craneware and the growth of the business club are examples of Scottish companies beginning to understand it.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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