Tackling the greatest rugby show on earth [Scotland on Sunday]
(Scotland on Sunday Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) THE RBS 6 Nations tournament has never been in finer fettle, according to the man who has been at its helm for the last dozen years.Now you might expect John Feehan to be bullish about the tournament of which he is chief executive, but he also has the facts and stats to back his case that the RBS 6 Nations is in rude good health, and backing from RBS has been an integral part of the championship's growth.Speaking from his base in Dublin, Feehan rattled off the numbers which convincingly demonstrate that the RBS 6 Nations really is one of the jewels in the crown of world rugby, second only to the World Cup, which only happens once every four years rather than annually like the RBS 6 Nations.More than one million spectators will take in the matches during this year's championship, and Paris, London, Rome, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin will play host to noisy but good-humoured crowds who genuinely have a celebration of rugby, whether they win, lose or draw. "We like to call it the world's greatest rugby championship," says Feehan, "because it simply is, and it is more popular today than it ever was."Just look at the television viewing figures. Back in 2002-03, the average audience over the 15 games in the UK was about 48 million. Last year the figure was a new record of 72 million. That's an enormous increase in a relatively short space of time given that the championship is more than 125 years old. "The championship also set new viewing figure records in France in 2012."One of the first deals Feehan signed when he took over the running of the tournament was with RBS. He says: "They were the first sponsor that I brought into our business, and I have to say that they have been fantastic partners ever since."One of the great things about having long-term partnerships with sponsors is that you really get to know and understand each other."You build the relationships and understand what each other wants from it, so that for instance, we review things every year and see how we can do things better in the future."They have been absolutely super sponsors. Clearly RBS has gone through a bit of upheaval themselves over the years but they stuck with us and it is really good to see the strong customer focus that is coming through at RBS because that really ties in with how people perceive our championship. Rugby in the UK touches everybody at RBS 6 Nations time, and I feel that we are part of the process of them getting closer to their customers."The RBS 6 Nations brand is now part of the national wallpaper, and Feehan thinks that is just reward for the partnership."It doesn't happen overnight," says Feehan. "We have been working very closely together on some great initiatives over the years, and the reality is that RBS have worked hard to make the brand what it is."It is really important to have engaged, locally driven, international brands who care about the people who are involved in our championship. That's what RBS do."It is also about building a sense of community, and one of the great things about rugby is the unifying factors that it has. There are really positive values associated with rugby, and those are the sort of values which RBS wishes to espouse.""The RBS 6 Nations now can be seen in more than 170 countries around the world, and that doesn't include another 30 countries where it is viewed on broadband. That figure of more than 200 countries viewing the championship is up from 130 only four or five years ago."All of our digital numbers are through the roof and we are leading the way in just about everything."Feehan's lifelong enthusiasm for rugby is infectious. The Dubliner is 51, married with two children and is a product of both Trinity College and the College of Marketing and Design in Dublin. His marketing and sales career saw him work at senior level for the likes of Unilever and Scottish & Newcastle, before he joined the RBS 6 Nations. He is also chief executive of the British and Irish Lions, and delights in his various roles.His ready wit and keen intelligence defy all the old cliches about thick prop forwards. Feehan played tight head prop - "the glamour position" as he quips - for a number of clubs in Ireland, and also for Irish Universities and Leinster, as well as playing abroad in Hong Kong and France.Since 2002, he has presided over steady growth in both income and audiences for the RBS 6 Nations, and whatever the Southern Hemisphere nations may say, the original International Championship is still the biggest and best tournament of its kind, not least because it is moving with the times.Proof of that progress can be found on the website www.rbs6nations.com which shows the whole range of activity in the championship, and also features the ability to sign up to receive a regular newsletter.There is also the official merchandising operation at the online store, plus chances to win match tickets and other great prizes.The revamped website is just one component of an organisational and marketing blitz led by Feehan. It is already proving successful, and he promised that there's more to come."On any measure that you care to take," said Feehan, "we tick all the boxes, and I think the future can only get better. There has been a huge increase in the number of people watching sport on their computers, and we are very aware that there are many new ways of consuming the championship. For instance, we were one of the first organisations to open a dedicated YouTube channel with millions of people watching clips on their laptops or smartphones."Last year nearly four million people watched the championship on broadband, and that number is bound to grow. Our Twitter and Facebook numbers are out of this world while we have our own app which is proving very popular, as well as winning awards."We have redesigned the website and we are also going to take more control over our production processes and graphics, and all sorts of other improvements which will mean that we will provide more of what people want as opposed to just saying 'here it is, take it'."We are very keen to interact with our customers, and we are adapting and changing how we present the championship at their request."We are in a very positive position and see significant growth in the UK and around the world as this process continues."Very much part of the project to grow the RBS 6 Nations are the sponsors and partners of the tournament, chief among them the RBS Group.The partnership between RBS and the 6 Nations is in place until 2017, and though Feehan says it is premature to be talking about extending the contract, it is expected that the two partners will be in discussions soon, and certainly long before the deadline.Meanwhile one of the longest-running partnerships in international sport continues to help make the RBS 6 Nations unmissable for rugby fans worldwide.
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