THIS SEASON is the last the Pro12 will have the title sponsor, RaboDirect.
The bank have opted not to renew its sponsorship contract with the league, meaning that just as the Celtic and Italian teams take their bow on Sky in the 2014/15 season it will be so under a completely different banner than when their new television deal was inked.
This season games will still be ‘RaboDirect’ matches and still shown on BBC Alba, BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Wales, RTE, TG4 and S4C, using these myriad channels as a platform to court potential sponsors. Matches being on Sky the season after this coming term is a carrot for potential sponsors. Sky no longer hold exclusive rights to Aviva Premiership rugby and will have to make do this season with the odd English Championship match interspersed with Amlin Challenge and Heineken Cup games, as well as autumn internationals. It will be a full season before Sky again show weekly games from a top domestic league.
It is perhaps a shock that Irish company RoboDirect have shied away from extending their deal, however it is not the first time the Rabo brand have pulled out of a major competition. Their Dutch parent company Rabobank, who funded a Tour de France team through their sports arm Rabo Sports, pulled their sponsorship from the competition in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal.
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RaboDirect’s move to leave the Pro12 is not one borne out of lack of belief in the sport’s integrity, but purely because the company felt they had promoted their brand as much as they could during their term as league custodians.
This may seem an odd decision as the Pro12 head towards a four-year deal with Sky that promises 33 televised games a season for a company’s name to shine out of. However, it is a pretty prospect for any potential sponsor.