Rugby sponsorship deals at risk as SRU chief executive resigns

Key points

• Scottish Rugby could lose sponsors due to internal crisis

• Famous Grouse warns corporate support depends on outcome of fiasco

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• The Scotsman Publications Ltd suspends three-year sponsorship deal

Key quote

"The clubs must put forward a motion, an amendment to the special general meeting, for the immediate re-instatement of David Mackay, and have a change of governance" - Phil Anderton

Story in full THE multi-million-pound sponsorship of Scotland’s rugby team is hanging in the balance amid a deepening crisis that yesterday brought the resignation of the Scottish Rugby Union’s chief executive, Phil Anderton.

The whisky company Famous Grouse warned that its support would depend on the outcome of the fiasco surrounding the dismissal of the SRU board chairman, David Mackay.

The company that owns The Scotsman suspended its sponsorship while another backer expressed "absolute dismay" at the destructive power struggle at the heart of the debt-ridden SRU, raising the prospect of financial collapse.

The crisis - unprecedented in the game in Scotland - worsened yesterday when Mr Anderton called on grass-roots clubs to revolt against Mr Mackay’s sacking by the SRU general committee and predicted "total meltdown" unless the decision was reversed. He said two planned six-figure sponsorship deals had collapsed as a result of the row.

Further departures are expected in coming days, while one of the general committee - dubbed "assassins in blazers" - also resigned yesterday.

Mr Mackay was ousted as head of the executive board on Sunday after the general committee, comprising 14 amateur representatives of Scotland’s rugby clubs, last week passed a motion of no confidence in him. A former chief executive of John Menzies, where he worked for 39 years, Mr Mackay is credited with slashing the SRU’s annual losses and appointing a dynamic team, including Mr Anderton, 39.

The Famous Grouse has been the single biggest sponsor of the SRU for 15 years. Its current deal, worth "a significant seven-figure sum", runs until summer 2007. But Tara Kildare, sponsorship manager with The Famous Grouse, part of Edrington Group, said: "The future of our relationship depends on how long this trouble goes on and how it detracts from the Six Nations championship.

"If it is prolonged and performance is affected, this will affect the total amount of coverage we get. It is vital that the SRU nip it in the bud and resolve the issues as quickly as possible."

Other sponsors also expressed concern. The Scotsman Publications Ltd, publisher of The Scotsman, has suspended its three-year deal worth 750,000 in cash and advertising in protest at the sacking of Mr Mackay.

Bell Lawrie White, the investment firm which sponsors the Scottish Schools Cup, said it was "disappointed" by Mr Mackay’s dismissal but refused to comment further. BT Scotland and Lloyds TSB Scotland were unavailable for comment.

But another key sponsor said yesterday: "It’s a complete shambles, a total disgrace. Everybody is dismayed. These old farts on the committee won’t last anyway because the SRU will completely implode. If we had our way we’d have them lined up against the wall and shot."

Mr Anderton, dubbed "Firework Phil" after using his marketing acumen to bring more razzmatazz to international games, described his resignation as "probably the saddest decision" of his life.

He added: "I’m here to ask the clubs to rise up and take a decision and act to stop this folly once and for all.

"The clubs must put forward a motion, an amendment to the special general meeting, for the immediate re-instatement of David Mackay, and have a change of governance."