Rangers in the Scottish Football League - Is IRN-BRU the luckiest football sponsor in history?

A blog from The Drum's editor, Stephen Lepitak, covering reaction to events in media, social media, marketing, advertising and communications in general.

If there have been any winners out of the fiasco surrounding the eventual liquidation of Rangers FC, it could well just be the sponsors of the Scottish Football League, the home of the new Rangers for potentially the next three years.

Sky Sports this week announced a new deal to screen both Scottish Premier League matches and several SFL matches featuring five games with Rangers, thought to be worth around £60m, while ESPN today has also agreed to screen 30 Clydesdale Bank Premier League games and 10 Rangers games, including three from Ibrox.

Last weekend saw the newly formed The Rangers Football Club take to the field for the first time against Brechin in the first round of the Ramsden’s Cup, leading to a 2-1 victory after extra time. The game drew an attendance of 4,123 (a very good crowd for most teams in Scotland, let alone one playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football.)

The game is also thought to be the highest watched programme in the history of BBC Alba.

But now, with the new football season just over a week away, AG Barr’s soft drink brand IRN-BRU has seemingly won a golden watch, having been sponsors of the lower leagues in Scotland for the last five seasons.

In 2010, the brand signed a three-year-extension to sponsor the three leagues, reportedly worth £3m. That deal will come to an end this season, but The Drum understands that an announcement on a new extension is imminent.

When signing initially in 2007, the company would never have dreamed of the potential value and audience it would see gather as a result of one of the Glasgow giants dropping down to the third division, set to endeavour to climb back up to the SPL.

Meanwhile, the sponsor is likely to have its branding spotted by an international TV audience from fans of the Ibrox club, and be in front of a potential home crowd of around 50,000.

Speaking to Rory Maxwell, who heads up MediaCom Sport, he told me that such deals are agreed to engender brand loyalty among the fan base and support grass roots football. IRN BRU has certainly done that, even supplying branded mini-buses for some clubs.

An interesting fact about IRN-BRU is that it is the only soft drink brand to outsell Coca-Cola in a single country (Scotland, of course). It spends a lot less on advertising, but in the last thirty-or-so years has become an integral part of the country’s culture. That it chose to tie-up with another aspect of that culture - football - shows very good judgement indeed.

When I asked Maxwell how much a change the entry of Rangers into the third division would have on the SFL deal, he admitted that he did expect to see an increased fee required, but stated that quantifying the increase in value would be ‘difficult’ without the league being able to guarantee coverage and audience levels.

Should an increase in the sponsorship fee emerge, the SFL will need to be able to come up with hard evidence to back up their predictions - which surely at this stage, it cannot do.

Potential interest from other sponsors however, could make the partnership more appealing, meaning that IRN-BRU, should it quickly agree to an extended deal, would be right to do so, and it’s likely we can expect that deal to run until at least 2015-2016, when Rangers will be able to achieve a return to the SPL at the earliest.

As to whether the fate of Rangers had been lucky for IRN-BRU, Maxwell agreed that it has been and I have to say I agreed with his response wholeheartedly as a follower of a lower-league team myself. “That is the unpredictable nature of sport that makes it so appealing and always creates the winners and losers from those involved,” he told me.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned about Scottish football - it’s certainly unpredictable. A bit like the IRN-BRU brand itself.

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