English Rugby extends O2 deal

Updated: February 6, 2012

English rugby retained its biggest sponsor on Monday despite the national team’s disgraced World Cup campaign in New Zealand, extending its long-standing deal with telecommunications giant O2 by four years.

The Rugby Football Union said the partnership that began in 1995 will continue “beyond the 2015 World Cup,” retaining O2′s presence on the kit of the national teams.

No financial details were disclosed, but O2 chief executive Ronan Dunne described the renewal as an “enhanced deal, bigger than previously,” which could reportedly earn the RFU more than 4 million pounds ($6.3 million) a year.

O2 remained committed to the RFU even though English rugby’s reputation was left in tatters after a tumultuous 2011, as a result of the RFU’s botched attempt to hire a new elite performance director to oversee the national squad and the team’s antics during the World Cup.

“We review all our commercial arrangements and what we were looking to do was develop our brand,” Dunne said. “Our focus was very much on looking forward rather than looking back.”

The RFU is slowly piecing itself back together after the exits last year of the body’s chairman, Martyn Thomas, and chief executive, John Steele.

Thomas’ attempts to engineer a route back into the RFU for Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup-winning coach from 2003, led to Steele stepping down. Thomas was eventually removed from his post.

Off-the-pitch events involving England’s national team at the World Cup left the English game in further turmoil, with then-captain Mike Tindall captured on security footage in the company of a “mystery blonde” during an Queenstown drinking session.

Three players were then reprimanded for making sexist comments to a hotel worker and center Manu Tuilagi was detained by police after jumping off a ferry at Auckland harbor.

By then, England had been eliminated at the quarterfinal stage by France — the team’s worst performance at a World Cup wince 1999.

However, under the helm of interim coach Stuart Lancaster — a renowned disciplinarian — England is attempting to make amends, and began this year’s Six Nations with a 13-6 win in Scotland on Saturday.

“Any business always considers who it is doing business with … and with the recent arrivals in the RFU and the developments regarding Stuart, we are going into it with a very positive frame of mind,” Dunne said.

England is the principal host of the World Cup in 2015, giving O2 more publicity.

“That’s the icing on the cake,” Dunne said.

As part of the new deal, O2 and the RFU will work “to create an enhanced digital experience for rugby fans at Twickenham … using technology to bring fans closer to the team and the players.”

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