Famous Grouse puts SRU fears to flight with new deal

THE Famous Grouse demonstrated that it has not been put off by Scotland’s results when the wraps were taken off a new, multi-million pound sponsorship deal with the national side at Murrayfield yesterday.

The famous Scotch whisky could also go on sale within the national stadium as early as the autumn internationals if Lothian and Borders Police and the Scottish Executive agree to lift the ban on alcohol at international games.

There were concerns earlier this season that the national team sponsor might end its 14-year association - the longest in world rugby - as the international side struggled to remain in the world’s top ten.

However, continuing the trend of attracting more sponsorship despite the on-field performances, the Scottish Rugby Union has sealed an improved deal - likely to be worth more than 1 million per year - covering the next three years up to the 2007 World Cup.

Coming on the back of a relaxation in the stringent licensing regulations by the City of Edinburgh Council, which allowed beer and wine to be on sale at the recent cup finals and is expected again at the Barbarians game on 22 May, Ken Grier, the brands manager for Famous Grouse owners The Edrington Group, said: "Obviously, given what has happened with the experiment at the cup finals with wines and beers we would like to see it extended to include spirits with the right consultation.

"What people don’t realise is that a unit of alcohol is a unit of alcohol whether it’s wine, beer or spirits. Alcohol used in a responsible way can enhance the enjoyment, relaxation and pleasure of supporters at a game. There is a lot of work and proper research being undertaken right now, and obviously we have to work very closely with the police and local and central government, and other key agencies, because public safety and health is paramount, but we would be hopeful that we could do something before the next Six Nations.

"We are delighted to conclude this deal because we are retaining a partnership with Scotland’s premier supported team. Watching a game and having a dram with friends is what we feel rugby is all about, but being a supporter of Scottish rugby is about the long-haul - the good times and the bad times. We know Scottish rugby is going through a transitional phase, but we are very, very optimistic about the good job the team here are doing and we’ll be there to partner them through this period.

"In our time as sponsors Scotland have won the old Five Nations, the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield, beaten South Africa, and France in Paris, so we take a long-term view and have terrific faith in the new team at Murrayfield. We’re all passionate supporters and want to see the team winning, but it’s less about results and more about the long-term partnership and us, a Scottish company, wanting to put something back into the fabric of Scotland.

"But the degree of professionalism that has been shown by the team here and their understanding of brands is very much appreciated, and is a key part of this sponsorship."

The SRU has trebled its number of sponsors in the past four years and taken income from 750,000 to 3million, but keeping the most visible sponsor on board is a massive boost at a time when funds are being severely stretched.