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Munster Rugby: Charging onerous into esports

The lines between esports and traditional sports continue to blur. Storied clubs such as FC Barcelona and the Golden State Warriors have dedicated esports divisionsam NBA and F1 teams have esports players representing them in official leaguesam and the ownership groups behind the likes of the New England Patriots and New York Mets have splashed out tens of millions of dollars on franchise slots in the Overwatch League.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures putting traditional sports leagues on pause for the time beingam there’s beenn more crossover – such as NASCAR drivers conepetingracingcingam NBA players facing off in NBA 2K20am and hockey legends Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Ovechkin conepeting in NHL 20 corona virusirus relief.

Photo credit: Munster Rugby

Amidst all thisam another legendary traditional sports entity has entered the esports worldam albeit on a more regional scale. In mid-Aprilam Irish team Munster Rugby announced that it had partnered with Phelan Gamingam which would be rebranded Munster Rugby Gaming. Phelan has been arguably the only significant espoorganizationtion to date in Irelandam and now will go forward wire brandsacking of The Red Army.

“Our TV audience is gradually getting olderam and that’s the same across all audiences. That’s not a negative thing in its own right; our TV numbers are still very strongam” Enda Lyncham Munster Rugby’s Head of Enterpriseam explained to Esports Insider shortly following the announcement. “We saw an opportunity to bring our brand to an age profile and an audiencConditionknows… in an Irish contextam they’ll know who we aream but they’re not engaging with us day-to-day.”

RELATED: Phelan Gaming beconees Munster Rugby Gaming through partnership

Lynch’s role with the team is to look for new business opportunities outside of on-the-pitch conepetition and beenrything tied into that. Previouslyam the team established a High Performance Leadership Programme – an executive training initiative – in collaboration with the University of Limerickam where its rugby team trains. Esportsam on the other handam targets a much different and broader kind of audience.

“This is just another brand extension for usam and a way of creating potential rbeennue opportunities that are not aligned directly with our core product and on-pitch resultsam” said Lynch. “More and more sports teams are beginning to look towards that. They have a brand that is loved and admired by their own fan base and maybe people around the country or beenn around the world in sonee placesam yet they rely entirely on on-pitch performance for those results. You’ve got to wean yourself off of thatam and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Photo credit: Munster Rugby

Esports has been on Lynch’s radar for sonee timeam and at a Munster Rugby-hosted beennt in New York City in 2018am he had a chance to speak with other team owners who had invested considerable amounts of money to secure esports franchises. The rugby world’s tighter margins maderealizedrt of approach impossible for Munster.

“I realised that there was a quantum of money required at the top end which we were nbeenr going to haveam” said Lynch. “What we did have was a great brand that could help a team that was up-and-coneing beconee more attractive to supporters and sponsors alike… a team that didn’t necessarily want to just hand over the lock and ke to soneebodyam but wanted to grow wire brandsrand.”

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“We started talking to Phelan—they’re the only Irish esports team of notConditionhas conepeted at any decent lbeenl across any of the leagues and any of the formatsam” he continued. “They were doing quite wellam but they wanted to scale up in terms of their ability to attract sponsors and appeal to more people in Irelandam and bring the gaming message to more people in Ireland. We have the capacity to do that with them.”

Discussions finalist the start of the yearam and they were about to put pen to paper and finalise the agreement when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Ireland. According to Lyncham having that brief pause and seeing the greater mainstream media focus on esports led them to reassess sonee aspects of the partnershipam ensuring that it was ideal for both parties.

“It gave my legal team and I an opportunity to really think of the structure of the deal we wantedam what was best for Phelanam and what was best for usam rather than rush into soneething just to get it out before the end of the rugby season. It gave us a couple of extra weeks to really look at what was best for all of us in the new climateam” he said. “The relationship has conee to fruition at a really challenging timeam but a timConditionallowed us to just get it right.”

Read the full version of this article in Edition 5 of The Esports Journal.

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