The carnival is around the corner. In a few short weeks, the spotlight will fall on England as it stages an event widely recognised as the third biggest sporting festival on the planet. The Olympics and football’s World Cup may dwarf all others, but for those associated with it, this autumn’s egg-shaped jamboree promises a rich seam to mine.
It would be fair, then, to say that 2015 is a year that has been asterisked in Mark Morgan’s diary for some time. As director of sponsorship for MaxiNutrition, there is a pressing need to capitalise on their partnership with the rugby world, and all the stops have been pulled out.
“We are spending about two thirds of our sponsorship budget on rugby at the moment, with the World Cup in mind,” says Morgan.
“If England and Wales do well, then the sport will be at the forefront of all our marketing activity. You will see videos with our ambassadors on YouTube and social media, imagery in stores, magazines and newspapers. The Rugby World Cup can have a big impact on the growth of our brand, and our sales figures.”
Only 15 years ago, sports nutrition supplements drew quizzical looks and concerned questions. What was in these potions that would add to your sporting prowess? How did we know they were safe, and above board? MaxiNutrition – or MaxiMuscle as it was then – pioneered the screening process that all of these products went through.
“There were certainly a few obstacles to overcome back then,” he adds. “But the screening process is now industry standard, and it gives consumers a total comfort and safety about the product. Whether it’s England captain Chris Robshaw or Joe Bloggs, they’re getting exactly the same product which has been through exactly the same procedures. You have that guarantee now.”
Morgan’s own affection for rugby is a story of organic growth. A keen cricketer and fervent Liverpool supporter, his initial passions lay elsewhere. Over time, and with MaxiMuscle’s early involvement with club side Wasps, he began to understand the workings of the sport. More than that, he began to gather the huge commercial potential of rugby sponsorship.
“All the attributes you need to be a good rugby player are closely linked with our product,” he says. “Namely strength, speed, agility and power. With the right training and the right food we can achieve those things. Our products are a critical part of what the England team do, every day, several times a day.”
Most sponsors will tell you that in aligning with rugby, they align themselves to some fantastic people. Not just gifted sportsmen and women, but articulate, intelligent, enthusiastic men and women.
“Initially we had Josh Lewsey as an ambassador,” says Morgan. “At the time he was considered somewhat ahead of his time in fitness and diet. He was unbelievably fit, in great shape. The national team coach Sir Clive Woodward even asked him to strip – almost naked – in front of the England team, and said ‘I want you all to look like that’. He was a great ambassador for us, but we didn’t have enough Josh Lewseys. We needed more ambassadors, more relationships. And ultimately the tipping point was the relationship with the sport’s governing body, the RFU.”
It is a relationship which has endured. For more than three years, MaxiNutrition has been an official RFU sponsor. Morgan has found more Josh Lewseys, not just in England.
“The players that we work with are all so down-to-earth, so easy; they give their time, they actively want to be involved with the brand,” he says. “The Ireland No8 Jamie Heaslip has been giving us detailed feedback on the design of our new individual protein shakers. You wouldn’t get that from players in other sports.
“Rugby feels like one big family. People aren’t afraid to share contacts and ideas. Everyone’s happy to improve and join forces with each other to make that happen. In other sports people are a little more protective.”
So what will success look like for Mark Morgan and MaxiNutrition, once the Rugby World Cup circus has left town? In the short term they will look for a rise in traffic around their website and – obviously – an increase in sales, but Morgan is concentrating on the longer term view.
“We want to educate grassroots rugby players so that they know what’s in their body, how they should be training,” he says. “There is a bit of a knowledge gap between elite players and the grassroots. I’d love to see that change: players eating better, taking the right sports nutrition products at the right times. Hopefully the tournament will get more people playing and involved in rugby, and that can only be good for our business.”