Japan trip about building relationships, not selling Murrayfield name, says Mark Dodson

MARK Dodson spent a week in Japan before Christmas looking into a variety of rugby and business links between Scotland and the Far East, but the SRU chief executive was quick to dismiss speculation that the trip was made to uncover a new sponsor for Murrayfield Stadium.

Like his predecessors before him, Dodson stated in 2012 that he would be open to the idea of “selling” Murrayfield to a multi-million pound sponsor in the same way that Ireland’s famous Lansdowne Road ground in Dublin has become the “Aviva Stadium”, Arsenal’s stadium is now the “Emirates” and Manchester City play at the “Etihad”.

But the reality is that there is not a queue of businesses nor wealthy individuals lining Roseburn Terrace offering the several million pounds investment that Dodson insists would be necessary for the stadium sponsorship to become a possibility. It appears there is no pot of gold in the Far East either, as Dodson returned without any new sponsorships in his briefcase, but the CEO insisted that the Japan trip was worthwhile.

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“We are a global game and there are global sponsors out there,” he explained, “and we are aware of relationships created between Scotland and Japan going back over hundreds of years.

“The 2019 World Cup is in Japan and there is a strong likelihood that we will play against Japan in the 2015 World Cup, so we think it makes sense to strengthen the relationships Scottish rugby has with Japan and the Japanese Rugby Union.

“It is clear that Japan is a huge country with a massive population and huge corporations, that own the rugby teams in Japan, so the commercial opportunities there are not difficult to see, but we have to first develop a relationship based on firm foundations rather than just going over and trying to get money in the bank. We talked about a whole range of opportunities with different people and organisations, but, no, we have not agreed any deals for Japanese firms to sponsor Murrayfield Stadium.”

So what tangible benefits does Dodson feel can be achieved from more formal links with Japan?

“We will have to wait and see,” he added. “We spent a week there meeting a lot of people, went to professional games and a university game, and it was fascinating to see how the game is played and the quality of rugby out there.

“They have very clear ambitions looking ahead to 2019 to ensure that Japanese rugby takes major strides forward and we have similar ambitions, and we looked at ways that we could help each other to achieve those.

“But we are at the foothills of those discussions at the moment, and the trip was really just about getting to know their culture, their needs, where rugby is in Japan at the moment and where they want to take it.

“When you see it against our plans for 2015 and beyond you see a planned trajectory that is pretty similar. We believe these relationships will develop over the longer term, and the Japanese believe that, too, so I’m confident that the dialogue that has started with them will benefit rugby in both countries.”