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O2 & England Rugby: What can your business learn from our 25-year strong partnership?

Gareth Griffiths, Head of Sponsorship at O2 and Simon Massie-Taylor, CCO at the RFU look at how O2’s England Rugby sponsorship has stood the test of time, why we work well together, and even give some top partnership tips that could help your business.

Since 1995, O2 has been side-by-side with England Rugby as their lead partner, making it one of the longest shirt sponsorships in UK sporting history. However, it goes much further than our logo appearing on their match and training kit. From giving fans once-in-a-lifetime experiences through Priority, to bringing people together to #WearTheRose on matchdays, we’ve always been a major player in connecting sports fans to the game.

As the deal moves into its 25th year, it brings with it, complete parity between the Men’s and Women’s teams. Following the Red Roses’ incredible Women’s Six Nations 2020 double Grand Slam and Championship win, it’s such an exciting time for women’s sport and we’re as excited to be involved.

Interested in setting up a partnership? Read on to find out more.

Why did O2 start sponsoring England Rugby? How have our aims and objectives changed over the past 25 years?

Gareth Griffiths: When the O2 brand launched in 2002, it was spun out of the existing England Rugby sponsor, BT Cellnet. We needed to build a brand from scratch, so the England Rugby shirt was a great way to do that as the new logo would be front and centre.

As O2 has become more established, our objectives have definitely evolved. Initially, it was straight forward mass brand awareness which still remains, but now we use the sponsorship right across our business. This includes increasing loyalty through Priority, building B2B relationships with our O2 Business customers and offering internal opportunities for our staff.

Simon Massie-Taylor: The core objective of the partnership has been pretty consistent since its beginnings – O2 is all about getting behind the England Men and Women’s teams and connecting fans and O2 customers to them.

As time has gone on, there’s been an increasing focus on digital content and exclusive experiences for O2 customers. This has been extremely mutually beneficial as one of our core objectives is growing a closer relationship with fans, so partnering with a business that speaks directly to millions of people across the UK is hugely valuable.


How do customers benefit from the partnership?

GG: As the UK’s No.1 Network, we’re committed to offering the very best offers and experiences to our customers including access to Priority Tickets for all England Rugby home games, 48 hours before general release. Access to exclusive player meets and greets, 20% matchday discount and England Rugby kit at Twickenham Stadium and O2 Ultimate Fan – Winning the chance to go on summer tour with the team.

O2 Inside Line also continues to give fans exclusive behind the scenes content, now with equal commitment to both teams. Expect everything from live broadcasts within training camp, to our podcast series, The England Rugby Podcast: O2 Inside Line, and O2 Blueroom pre and post-match livestreams from Twickenham.

We also have a joint commitment to support the country’s grassroots clubs through exclusive rugby community offers from O2, and a vision for Twickenham to become more connected, utilising O2 5G and O2 Business products and services.

Why are sponsorships important for businesses?

SM-T: The best sponsorships are partnerships. The RFU is quite complicated as we administer a nationwide sport, operate multiple international teams and events, run a stadium and manage a media business. We also have a hotel, gym, shop and a travel company! We simply couldn’t do this on our own. Everything we do is built on partnerships: commercial, sporting and close working relationships with our constituent rugby clubs and bodies.

A commercial sponsorship can add a huge amount of partnership value to a business like ours. We couldn’t reach the audiences we do without the marketing firepower and access O2 bring.


“The best sponsorships are partnerships.”

Simon Massie-Taylor, RFU


GG: Our sponsorships power our brand; they are core to the DNA of O2. As a telecommunications business, the main product we sell you can’t see, touch or feel. Through music and sport, our sponsorships enable us to interact and engage with customers around the things they love. They’re powerful drivers of brand awareness, brand love and create exclusive offers and experiences you can’t get anywhere else – which supports loyalty too.


What can businesses learn from O2’s relationship with England Rugby?

GG: Long-term partnerships are hugely beneficial for both sides. You have to be really clear in what you want to invest in, make sure this aligns with your business priorities and then commit properly. The rights you secure are crucial, then you need to invest properly in activation. Being creative around how you bring your assets to life for your customers and prospects is hugely important.

SM-T: O2 are at the top of their game when it comes to sponsorship and are constantly evolving how they execute it. Our partnership is complex and changing but O2 has been consistent in their general approach which I think is the secret to its success.

My main tips are:

    • You are who your friends are – Think of your partners as a whole and how they help your brand grow.
    • It’s not all about the money – Sponsorship rights can be very valuable but it’s not just about price. You need to make sure they’re right for your business.
    • Stick to your own strategy wherever possible – Don’t create initiatives that don’t work for you. They will almost certainly not work for your partner in the end.
    • Think long term – Keep asking yourself, ‘What will this look like in 10 years’ time?’.
    • Lean on your partners – Everyone benefits from learning from another organisation


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