Long
gone are the days when the cigarette companies went head-to-head in football
sponsorship. And major sponsorship by the breweries also appears to be on the way out. It is
now likely that the naming rights sponsor of the NRL will be vehicle manufacturer
Mitsubishi, putting it in direct marketing competition with the AFL, which has Toyota as its major sponsor.

Since
Telstra indicated it was not planning to extend its contract as the naming
rights sponsor, the NRL has been in discussions with a number of corporations. It’s an important issue for the NRL
to resolve, as the direct and indirect benefits from naming rights sponsor are
believe to be valued at between $5 million and $10 million a year.

These
days sponsoring league, rules and other football codes is not without its
hazards. Queensland
Transport is under fire over its sponsorship of the Brisbane Broncos following
the charging of the Broncos Neville Costigan with drink driving.
The AFL had had similar problems with
players from clubs sponsored by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) being charged for drink driving
and speeding. Given
the adverse publicity both codes continue to get from drunken behaviour by
players, plus the fact that a large part of each code’s constituency is kids,
major sponsorship by breweries and other liquor companies may carry with it
similar risks.

If the
NRL can sign up Mitsubishi for anywhere near the figure being reported today – around $60 million for six years – it will be a coup for the game, and a good
time for the company to get on board. The
Telstra premiership this year has enjoyed record or near record ratings on
television. The Sydney/Brisbane press coverage has never been higher, but not
always favourable thanks to players behaving badly and referees performing
poorly.

Given
the enormous taxpayer funding the Australian and South Australian Governments
have tipped into Mitsubishi, perhaps John Howard and Mike Rann could claim a
share of the naming rights as well.

Peter Fray

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