Super League wired over new deal

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HUDDERSFIELD Giants managing director Richard Thewlis says Super League’s new sponsorship deal has finally curtailed “uncertainty” in the sport and provides the base for a bright future.

The competition has at last secured a main title backer with First Utility – one of the UK’s largest independent energy suppliers – yesterday announcing a significant three-year deal.

The domestic game’s elite division had, frustratingly, been without such a sponsor since clubs opted to end their much-maligned, cash-less deal with haulage firm Stobart 18 months ago.

However, First Utility will now pump a seven-figure sum into Super League, believed to be worth £750,000 over each of the next three seasons.

It is the second piece of positive news inside a week after damaging infighting between clubs was laid to rest last Friday and a new league restructure for 2015 was thankfully agreed.

Furthermore, the RFL – building on the major strides made during the successful World Cup – is confident of announcing more commercial partners before the First Utility Super League 2014 campaign is officially launched in less than a fortnight’s time.

Securing such a prime deal has been welcomed by Thewlis, whose Huddersfield side lifted the League Leaders’ Shield last season and start the new campaign at champions Wigan on February 7.

“I think it puts to bed a period of uncertainty,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“It’s excellent news for everyone involved. First Utility is a fine brand and now we’ll get behind it and demonstrate the wonderful value there is in Super League.

“It will hopefully bring other parties on board and it is only good news for the sport.

“It will be viewed positively by the media – who consistently want to put us down – and by the fans.

“The clubs I’ve spoken to are absolutely delighted. Now we need to help First Utility achieve the outcomes they want to see to turn them into a long-term member of Super League’s family of sponsors.”

Although not one of the ‘big six’ energy companies, the Warwick-based business aims to eventually break into that bracket and has targeted Super League – viewed by almost 2m people each year – to help spread its message about lower energy prices.

The cash input, which equates to around £55,000 per club this season, will certainly aid top-flight sides, some of whom have struggled financially in recent times.

The problems which stemmed from the Stobart deal, though, were largely self-inflicted; Super League clubs voted for it themselves, admittedly with a majority of only 9-5.

They received no cash from that three-year agreement, clubs and players instead being advertised on 100 of Stobart’s famous green trucks. It was argued at the time that the deal could be worth up to £2.5m a year in advertising revenue but in July 2012 – just six months after signing up – Super League’s clubs exercised an opt-out clause for the end of that first season.

The First Utility deal takes a more traditional format and is understood to be similar in value to the previous contract with Engage, who ended their six-year run as main sponsor in 2011.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington echoed Thewlis’s sentiments.

“The last few years have been a difficult time for the game, with the well-publicised financial problems at quite a number of clubs, the Stobart deal and the lack of a title sponsor,” he said.

“All those factors in the last four-year period have made it a very difficult market.

“But I think the tide has turned and this new title sponsorship heralds a sea change in how our game is seen and presented in the UK sports industry market.

“It will also lead to benefits for Super League clubs as they go in search of their own sponsors, both locally and nationally. A major sponsor on the back of quite a number of new partnership sponsors has brought record levels of income into Super League.

“It’s a significant one for the sport and it’s not only the cash that’s important. Having a major partner who will be spending a significant amount in their support of Super League and rugby league is also important.

“We have now got a group of major companies associated with the Super League competition and more money than we’ve had in the past. It’s something to be welcomed by the clubs and it’s a good effort by James Mercer, Super League’s commercial director.”

Super League chief executive Nigel Wood said: “First Utility is a real challenger brand that is shaking up the UK energy market and we look forward to working with them over the next three years.

“2014 will be a particularly exciting period in the commercial development of the sport: this announcement is the first in a series of agreements that will put in place, a family of partners around the First Utility Super League, as we build on the legacy of the very successful Rugby League World Cup 2013.”

First Utility currently has 320,000 customers in the UK and its chief customer officer Ed Kamm said: “The Super League is passionately supported by millions of families in the UK who are the real stars of the game. In turn, we’re passionate about helping millions of families save on their energy bills. We think it’s a good fit.”

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