I’d hoped to be writing this blog while basking in the delight and shock of a victory in Marseille. Although I can’t do that there is still reason to celebrate – if anything the game only provides the backdrop to what I want to talk about – the rise of Leinster Rugby as a brand.
Brands are hard things to build and are often years in the making. It’s not impossible for a brand to announce itself by name and identity to the whole world but it’s a much longer and tougher task to establish substance and reason to believe in a brand. In reality, a brand is only truly built once it achieves the trust of the consumer. This can be trust in the most passive way – “I use such and such a brand because it always works”. But then there are brands you trust to the point that you are an advocate and you don’t hesitate to recommend this brand to people. These are the brands like Red Bull where you will more readily try new products on the back of an inherent belief that it will deliver. In Ireland, brands that operate in this space have taken years of careful building, e.g. SuperValu and An Post.
Around 12 years ago, Leinster Rugby was nowhere near this level of trust. It had become a pastiche of itself, commonly mocked and designated a D4 only brand (barely even a brand then). If you were southside Dublin you followed Leinster, for everyone else it was Munster. This was also at a point when the game was being transformed. The last trojans of the amateur game were moving towards retirement and a totally professional and commercially minded troupe were emerging. Their success is well regarded and is the culmination of hard work well done. Early success didn’t build the brand. It launched a platform from which Leinster have built on year after year.
It would be all too easy to lump the commercial success in with the on-field success but this would belittle the effort of the powers that be in Leinster. Average attendances are now at the 19,000 mark. Leinster Rugby put a huge effort at grassroots. They went to clubs across Leinster to engage underage children but crucially parents, assuring them that rugby was an inclusive sport. They utilised their burgeoning stars well, making them the messenger and piggybacking on the trust that they carry. Their social media in recent years looks and feels like a fan driven page. During the week, they produce and amplify content that will appeal to the fan who is on the terrace. Their family driven approach has ensured that the RDS on game day is a great day out with a hugely hospitable atmosphere. It has also ensured that trust in the brand for those that attend is so high that they will recommend it to friends.
Leinster engage agencies to direct their brand, notably the services of Atomic Sport who have considerable knowledge in their marketing team. Despite Sunday’s defeat, Leinster are and will continue to look to build their future on the field but also in a commercial capacity. The mark of this success is that they now sit comfortably alongside the likes of SuperValu and An Post. They represent an inclusiveness and togetherness that was lacking in the days of Donnybrook. They have returned the province to the provincials. Their hard won trust now sees them plying a hugely effective sponsorship journey. They are now a brand that has the ability to give credibility to other brands in need and elevate those with existing credibility to new levels.