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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Rugby in UAE: What sponsors get out of being involved with clubs across Emirates

Companies pouring money into teams see themselves as brand ambassadors expecting return on investment over long term.

Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul, left, with director of the club, Paul Hart. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul, left, with director of the club, Paul Hart. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Dubai Hurricanes have the same logo - Fly Emirates - on the front of their rugby shirts as Real Madrid, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

Dubai Exiles share a main sponsor - AIG - with the All Blacks. Other blue chip companies, such as Porsche and Bremont watches, also partner with the country’s oldest rugby club.

So what value do companies see in pouring finances into an amateur sport, in a country not particularly known for rugby?

“It is people who care deeply about the game wanting to make a sponsorship happen,” said Mike Wolff, the chairman of the Exiles, who says the Porsche deal came about via one of the parents of a youth team player.

According to Hamish Russell, the global business manager for Hesco, Jebel Ali Dragons are a “brand-carrying vehicle” for his company.

Hesco, who make military defence barriers, have just agreed a sponsorship extension with the Dragons that will bring a seven-figure sum into the club over the next five years.

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“I don’t expect, and would never expect, guys from the rugby club to go and buy defensive barriers,” Russell said. “I know a rugby club at home [in Scotland] that have the local butcher on their shirt. I know that he is expecting everyone to go and buy from him.

“I’m not seeing it that way. I’m seeing it as them carrying our brand, they are brand ambassadors, and I will see the benefit of that on a bigger scale further down the line.

“If we get more profile, we get more interest, more interest becomes more enquiries, more enquiries becomes more sales. Although they don’t directly sell defensive barriers, they do it in a way that is raising our profile.”

Russell felt the Dragons were a match for his company because they were “born from nothing, and are a family-orientated club, who they punch above their weight”.

The Hesco link up meant the Dragons were able to recruit former England player Henry Paul to be their coach ahead of last season.

As the most high-profile coach in the club game, he fits the bill as a brand ambassador, and he is also intent on making them successful on the field.

“We spent two years trying to get him,” Russell said of Paul’s recruitment. “We are delighted with it. Not only has he brought the coaching to a new level, he has raised the level of profile for all the sponsors."

UAE rugby in numbers

5 - Year sponsorship deal between Hesco and Jebel Ali Dragons

700 - Dubai Hurricanes had more than 700 playing members last season between their mini and youth, men's and women's teams

Dh600,000 - Dubai Exiles' budget for pitch and court hire next season, for their rugby, netball and cricket teams

Dh1.8m - Dubai Hurricanes' overall budget for next season

Dh2.8m - Dubai Exiles’ overall budget for next season