Why Toshiba still sees value in rugby after 60 years supporting the sport

John Inverdale
Toshiba is supplying all the computers, laptops and IT provision for the Rugby World Cup
Japanese firm Toshiba sees the 2015 Rugby World Cup as a chance to build B2B connections

IT’S THE nature of sporting events that, for all the hype in advance, and indeed while they’re taking place, before we know it they’re over and the carousel moves on to the next celebration and jamboree. The Rugby World Cup gets ever nearer, ticket sales are close to 90 per cent, and most sponsors are putting the finishing touches to their plans for the six weeks of competition. After years of major occasions in this country, highlighted by the London 2012 Olympics, things could be pretty quiet in the UK in the foreseeable future.

So it’s a good time to be a Japanese company like Toshiba.

They sponsored the Fifa World Cup, which was a huge success more than a decade ago. But Japan is now gearing itself up to host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the Olympics in Tokyo the following year.

“There is a huge buzz around the whole organisation,” is how Matt McDowell, Toshiba’s marketing director of Europe, puts it. “For a couple of years, Japan is going to be the sporting capital of the world.”

The company has a deep heritage in supporting rugby. One of the country’s foremost clubs, called Toshiba, has been in the vanguard of the sport for more than 60 years. But what sets the company apart from the majority of sponsors of this autumn’s World Cup is the fact that ”we genuinely are not in the business of trying to sell people things,” says McDowell with a smile.

“We are concerned ostensibly with business-to-business connections before and during the event. While we want people to know that, without us, the World Cup wouldn’t take place because we’re supplying all the computers, laptops and IT provision, it’s not the consumer we are focusing on. We have more than 20 divisions, ranging from air-conditioning to printers, so it’s about a pan-business approach.”

Toshiba has a rich and varied list of sporting associations, from being the medical partner of Manchester United to supplying all the performance analysis operation for the Movistar cycling team. There’s also the small matter of sponsoring Barnet Football Club, which McDowell admits “is not quite on the same scale as the other two.”

But there’s no doubting the scale of Toshiba’s commitment to the Rugby World Cup. It has hired a magnificent gothic mansion, Strawberry Hill House, built in the mid-eighteenth century by Horace Walpole, the son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, and within walking distance of Twickenham, for hospitality and business purposes during the competition. “And we intend to use our ticket allocation to maximum effect.”

Despite that, Toshiba is not shouting from the rooftops about its sponsorship. “It really is all about accelerating B2B growth.” There’s no ‘Hello Tosh Got any tickets for the rugby final” campaigns planned, even though the original slogan which was sung incidentally by Ian Dury, has passed into advertising folklore.

The modern update of that is a kicking game on the Rugby World Cup app that goes live in July. The computers, the laptops, the app. Toshiba will be the electrical pivot of this year’s Rugby World Cup.

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