A new chapter in Connacht Rugby begins this week with a new major sponsor being unveiled ahead of the province's first pre-season match on Saturday. In a new departure, Japanese car manufacturer Mazda has become the new title sponsor, taking over from the Bank of Ireland which had been involved with the province since 1996.
However the three-year deal with Mazda is worth considerably more - some €1.5 million over the three years which includes the provision of cars for some management and players. Mazda also hopes to take a more active role in marketing activities, with a presence at match days to develop both the Connacht Rugby and Mazda brands.
The move is seen as a huge boost for the province as Connacht moves into Heineken Rugby for the first time with a recognised world brand as sponsor. Mazda joins a growing list of car manufacturers becoming involved in rugby which Mazda Ireland's county manager, Michael Howe, acknowledges is an "excellent platform" for new customers. Toyota remains the main sponsor of Connacht rugby; Land Rover is an official sponsor of this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand - the first time that the leading car manufacturer has been involved with the event; while it is understood Fiat had wanted to take over the sponsorship of the Celtic League but was outbid by Rabo Direct.
Howe says Mazda is similar to Connacht in that it faces stiff competition from the big three of the motor trade, but he believes the passion and ambition of Connacht’s management and supporters is immense.
"We are thrilled to support this exciting new chapter in Connacht Rugby’s proud history. Mazda, like Connacht, is beginning an important new chapter, as we prepare to launch our sixth generation of cars with SkyActiv Technology. The sponsorship of Connacht Rugby provides an excellent platform for new customers to experience our cars,” he says.
Coach Eric Elwood also says Mazda and Connacht share a lot of common values:
" In terms of drive, passion and performance, and there are huge opportunities for us to work successfully together over the next three years. This is a very exciting year for Connacht Rugby with the Heineken Cup coming to Galway, the newly branded RaboDirect PRO12, and now our new sponsor Mazda joining us as our official title sponsor."
Connacht open their pre-season on Saturday when they take on Exeter Chiefs in Dubarry Park at 5.30pm after two open training sessions at Sligo RFC. The squad will be missing Fetu Vainikolo who has been called into the Tongan World Cup squad - the second Connacht player to be involved in World Cup warm-up action after Mike McCarthy started in Ireland's friendly against Scotland. Elwood is expected to give playing time to his new signings on Saturday - the first of three pre-season games before the start of the RaboDirect PRO 12 League.