How backing rugby helps to build a global head of steam

John Inverdale
Commercial director Fraser Brown is using sport to build brand awareness worldwide
Heathrow Express’s Fraser Brown looks to players’ speed on the field to win the high-speed rail link more conversions

IF YOU are a lover of statistics, you’ll love this opening paragraph. Of the 50m passengers who arrive at Heathrow airport every year, around 20m travel immediately into central London.

Of that 20m, nearly a third take the Heathrow Express train service into the heart of the capital. The average travel time by taxi is 51 minutes. By train it’s 15. The average cost of a taxi is around £66.

The train will set you back £21.50. That’s enough facts and figures to be going on with.

And yet. Lies, damned lies and statistics, as Mark Twain would say. The fact is that if 6m people use Heathrow Express every year, 14m potential passengers do not.

Which is the challenge facing Fraser Brown, the company’s business lead and commercial director.

‘When the service began in 1998, we carried around 2m passengers a year. That has risen gradually and steadily in the intervening period, but our big task is getting the rail link better known in some of our key markets. Most people book business or holiday flights. They book the hotel. They don’t book the bit in the middle – getting from one to the other, so we need to create better awareness of who we are and the advantages we offer.”

You’ll see Heathrow Express emblazoned across not just the England 7-a-side rugby team, but across all the national representative sides from the USA, with the clearly defined objective of raising the service’s profile in America. “There are no high-speed rail links from any major airports into city centres in the US, even though they are just establishing one in Toronto. It’s not part of the American psyche, so we don’t have an automatic reference point with the American market. This sponsorship deal takes us not just to the US, but to Tokyo, Dubai, Hong Kong and all the other stop-off points of the international 7s circuit, and gets our name out there to a huge market.”

Heathrow Express, as a partner of England Rugby, will be able to capitalise on the Rugby World Cup in different ways, not least an extra 500,000 visitors to the UK arriving at Heathrow for the event and needing to head into London. They’re talking to the game’s governing body, World Rugby, about being part of the information packages distributed to all travelling fans and are studying joint promotional activities with Marriott Hotels and HSBC among other sponsors of the game.

“Long-term, the key objective is to get as many people as possible out of taxis and into the train for commercial, and also sustainability reasons” says Fraser. "For obvious reasons, we’re huge supporters of the 3rd runway proposal for Heathrow, because we see the train link as a vital part of that project.”

Heathrow Express recently wrapped their trains in displays of the England and American 7-a-side stars to coincide with the international tournament at Twickenham, and one of those players embodies what their service is about. So here’s some more facts for you. The USA’s Carlin Isles is widely regarded as the quickest player ever to feature on an international rugby pitch with personal bests of 4.22 for 40 metres and 10.13 for 100 metres.

"Fast players. Fast trains. That’s us” says Fraser.