Mitsubishi Motors is the official performance partner to England Rugby and has introduced the national rugby union side’s head coach, Eddie Jones, as a brand ambassador. Both partnerships will build towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup and will support the game from grassroots level up to the elite squad. Lance Bradley, the managing director of Mitsubishi Motors in the UK, spoke to SportsPro about the new partnership from its official launch at the Mitsubishi Motors England Rugby Training Centre, Surrey.
Why has Mitsubishi chosen to get involved with English rugby union?
We have been supporting rugby union for ten years: firstly, with Gloucester and then for the last three years with Edinburgh Rugby. The Rugby Football Union [RFU] actually approached us, in October 2015, to see if we would be interested in partnering with them.
What they were most interested in was the work that we had done with our existing partners – like Gloucester and the Badminton Horse Trials – that didn’t involve any sponsorship fees. They were keen to explore whether that was something that we would be interested in. To be completely honest, I am a big rugby fan so I said to my guys not to let me get involved in the discussions because I would have said yes straight away!
However, we talked about what they are looking for and it was clear that there were a lot of things that we could work on together. It was a great opportunity for us and, obviously, it is very prestigious to be partnering with England Rugby.
What activations will Mitsubishi put in place as the RFU’s official performance partner?
The main thing that most people will see will be our logo on the shirts under-18 and under-20 teams and at England’s training base, Penny Hill Park, which has been rebranded as the Mitsubishi Motors England Rugby Performance Centre. That is the very visible stuff but what we are especially excited about is the grassroots stuff.
We have, with the RFU, set up a volunteer recognition programme too. We have got 100 Mitsubishi dealers throughout England that are well spread geographically, which puts us in a good position to do quite a lot of local things to support the England regional guys. They are all going to go in our L200 pick-up trucks, they will then have a relationship with the dealer and we can encourage our Mitsubishi dealer network to work closely with their local rugby clubs to help promote the volunteer programme. The next phase will be helping the clubs obtain more kit.
We ultimately want to support and encourage more people to get into rugby. One of the most important things to us is that we are never interested in sponsorships that we are just putting our badge on. There must always be something more to it. Yes, it works commercially for us but it is also, in our opinion, the right thing to do.
We are at Penny Hill Park today and it is fantastic. If we could have some kind of scheme where more people got involved in rugby and they could come down here for a day that would be great. It would be a tremendous opportunity to encourage people – it doesn’t matter how good people turn out to be, it is all about higher participation. We feel that we can really help with that. ng more to it. Yes, it works commercially for us but it is also, in our opinion, the right thing to do.
How much was England’s excellent recent form a reason for getting on board?
It is obviously a big thing. We have been lucky enough to meet up with Eddie Jones a few times; he actually came in to meet everyone in our offices a couple of weeks ago. Having someone who goes to Australia and wins 3-0 but still returns to England and says, “That was alright but it wasn’t good enough,” is inspirational. That is how we like to do things: we like to keep pushing. As soon as you stand still, that’s when you get overtaken.
Being able to work with Eddie and have him talk with our staff – and understand the language that he talks – is a very good fit.
Furthermore, Eddie has been named as an official brand ambassador of Mitsubishi. What will his role entail?
Once we had agreed the deal with England, getting Eddie in as an official brand ambassador was something that we were very keen to do. He is a well-known figure and, as I said before, very inspirational. He stands for everything that rugby should stand for: respect, pushing yourself and trying to find that half a per cent improvement. Those are all things that we are trying to do, so he is almost the perfect ambassador for us.
Will you be using England players for advertising campaigns in the future?
It is possible. We have suddenly become a lot more popular with the players, especially when they hear there might be a car deal! We are being offered lots of opportunities, which we are considering at the moment and part of the deal is that we will get access to players from the senior squad. We are looking at one or two things outside of that as well.
What we are really looking to do is to tell people that we have this relationship but do it in a meaningful way. I am not sure that anybody would buy an L200 because we have told them that we are involved with England Rugby. Actually, we can intelligently use the partnership where it is relevant to people. One of the major parts of the sponsorship is to say that we have the relationship so, yes, we will be using it.
People that are interested in rugby will become more aware of the work that we are doing at the grassroots level, and then we become more and more relevant to them.
How successful was Mitsubishi’s sponsorship of the European Grand Prix Sevens in Exeter?
It was fantastic. It was a very successful tournament for us, it got our name up in front of a load of people but the competition was great too. It was a great time to have a sevens tournament, it was just before the Olympics and the GB Team were competing at Exeter for the first time. It all came together quite nicely, especially with the way that the team went on to perform at the Olympics in such a truly outstanding way.
It was a showcase for people who had maybe not watched traditional rugby but they became massively excited about sevens. I think that it is only good news, it is a great competition. We will continue to sponsor the Exeter Sevens on a regular basis.
How much extra involvement does Mitsubishi have with the England under-18 and under-20 teams?
It is, again, all part of the grassroots bit of the deal. We are collaborating with the RFU to help develop the pathway which leads to the under-18 and under-20 teams, then eventually to the to the senior squad.
The under-20s are a really good team. So it is quite likely that a number of that team could end up playing for the senior team at the World Cup. If you can say to a youngster, “Look, he went through the route that we are talking about and look where he is now,” then it will surely encourage them. It will give them a glimpse of what is possible.
Mitsubishi has a longstanding sponsorship with Badminton Horse Trials. What do you feel that you can learn from the other sports you have sponsorship interests in?
One of the biggest things that we did with the Badminton Horse Trials was to introduce the grassroots event six years ago, which was a competition for amateur riders to compete at the Badminton Horse Trials.
To give non-professional riders the opportunity to ride at the premium equestrian event makes it their cup final. I spoke to the organisers and asked if we could do this and they were interested in the idea but it took about 12 months to put together.
It is the top amateur competition now. It is a great to have come up with that and seen it through; I know some people that have done it and they never tire of talking about it because you feel really proud when you have done something like that.
If we can use some of that and help with what the RFU are already doing in encouraging people down that route then we will, of course.
You’ve mentioned that the development of grassroots level rugby is the most important aspect for you. What age group are you aiming to entice people to play rugby?
From any age. What we are working on with the RFU is a programme to initially support volunteers at the clubs, to have a bit of recognition for the mums and dads – not just the ones that stand out in the rain doing the coaching, but also the ones that wash the kit or do the accounts. The volunteers that do the jobs that everyone assumes just happen but actually they take a lot of work to get done. This is the lifeblood of the clubs and the more that we can keep it going, the more successful that the clubs will be.
We want to work on a clubs’ kit programme. Most of the clubs are looking for more kit and better-quality kit and if we can get more kit it will, of course, mean that more people can play the sport. This is the point of our involvement and maybe the mums and dads will look favourably on Mitsubishi when they are looking at buying a car.
What we are working on are programmes that are open to anybody. It doesn’t matter where you live or what school you went to because rugby has so many positive things about it: the discipline, the respect, and the whole team ethic of it. It is almost unlike any other sport and we certainly wouldn’t want to be involved in a programme that favoured a certain type of person. Everybody can win with rugby.
What would you deem as a successful partnership for you?
With us being a Japanese company and the RFU being very focused on building up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan, we would love to be able to work with the England set-up and help them there. If we can help make a one per cent difference and that ends up with the England team winning a World Cup, it would be tremendous. That is what the focus is and that is where everything that is going on is leading to and it is a real privilege to have a small part in it.