ENGLAND is an unique place for sports marketers to work. You have a large number of professional clubs in a variety of sports all jostling for the attention of a finite number of supporters and the investment that comes from television companies and sponsors.
And a town like Northampton is a microcosm of that.
As well as us at Northampton Saints, we have a League Two football club (Northampton Town) and a first-class county cricket club (Northamptonshire Steelbacks, 2013 Twenty/20 winners).
But we are also within easy reach of the Premier League teams in London and the West Midlands, ice hockey in Nottingham and Coventry, and a number of other Aviva Premiership rugby clubs like Saracens, Wasps – now based in Coventry – and Leicester.
It is certainly a congested marketplace, but it has also informed how Northampton Saints has been developing as a business over the past 15-or-so years.
Professional rugby is still in its relative infancy, having only moved away from amateurism in the mid-1990s. Northampton Saints had been one of England’s top clubs since the start of the 20th century and had been financially solvent, but we needed the investment of local businessperson and owner, Keith Barwell, to ensure that the transition was made to the new era successfully.
Keith is one of the pivotal figures in the club’s history, not just because he craved success on the field, but because he believed that rugby clubs needed to be sustainable for the long-term. To this end, we have had to run a self-financing business, which means getting bums on seats, week in, week out.
We are in a fortunate position to have one of the most successful teams in the country at present.
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder and his coaches, have put together an outstanding squad that includes plenty of international players such as George North, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood. We have reached nine cup finals in the past seven years, and last year won the European Challenge Cup and Aviva Premiership titles in the space of eight days.
Of course, success attracts support, both in terms of having over 30,000 people welcome the team at an open top bus parade and in having a positive impact on the number of season tickets that were booked for 2014/15.
However, capacity crowds are nothing new, and we have had an average exceeding 95 per cent of capacity for a number of years.
What may sound surprising is that, in this time, we have spent nothing at all on a formal marketing budget; instead using a combination of intelligent use of our website and social media outlets, developing outstanding relationships with our sponsors, and maximising our community work, to promote ticket sales.
All of our communications strategy and content is developed in-house; we are not believers in using agencies.
We have a talented and intelligent team that can produce its own design and multi-media content that can react immediately to capitalise on events such as fixture announcements, high-profile international games, and has made a point of introducing mobile-friendly websites and eCommerce that is straightforward to use on smart phones and tablets, thereby making it easier to order tickets, merchandise and so on.
Northampton is a large town that has a relatively small business community, and, over the course of several decades, the Saints has developed its relationships with the likes of Travis Perkins, Carlsberg UK and Church’s Shoes, all of whom are also significant local employers.
Indeed, we believe that Travis Perkins have been our principal shirt sponsor longer than any other company in any top-class sport in the country. Having effective relationships means that we can offer their staff ticket deals as and when we have seats to sell at short notice, giving something back to the whole company, not just the board of directors.
Finally, our community team does excellent work on building links with clubs and schools from across the east of England and beyond.
Often, the number of tickets sold in this manner hits four figures, and when we have games on a Saturday or Sunday our on-site training pitches are packed with age group tournaments, from under-sevens all the way up to under-15s. The club was founded as a community project, and this is at the heart of our ongoing strategy in the 21st century, as it was when we were founded in the 1880s.
But none of this would not be possible without everyone in our sales, communications, marketing and community teams putting in the extra hours, often working six or seven days a week during the rugby season.
The commitment cannot be faulted, and it underpins both our commercial successes as well as laying the foundations for a 20 per cent increase in capacity this summer.
As Saints supporters – to a man and woman – we are certainly proud of our achievements and the hairs on the back of my neck always stand up when the roar goes up at a full Franklin’s Gardens when the team runs out, knowing we have played a full part in packing the stands and helping create new generations of supporters.
Brian Facer is commercial director of Northampton Saints rugby union club.
* * *
We agreed to become the presenting partner of the men’s football Scottish League Cup, for the 2015 semi-final and final stages. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to get our brand out there to a mass market, and we got to support Scottish football, which is very close to our hearts.
At QTS, we are backing more than just a horse
We have been a main partner at Ayr Racecourse for the past three years. Our partnership has seen us among those supporting some of the country’s biggest race days. Our title race event is QTS Ladies Night, considered one of the most glamorous events on the horseracing calendar. We also support the QTS Champion Hurdle race, recognised as the second-biggest jump race after the Scottish Grand National.