New deal hailed by Leeds Rhinos supremo

Gary Hetherington.
Gary Hetherington.
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SUPER LEAGUE’S new sponsorship deal is a tide-turning moment for the competition, says Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.

First Utility – one of the UK’s largest independent energy suppliers – has signed a three-year contract to become Super League’s title backer.

The value of the agreement has not been confirmed. Insiders say it is worth a “significant seven-figure sum”, with other sources putting that at around £750,000 per season.

More commercial partners are set to be announced before the official launch of First Utility Super League 2014 in Manchester next month.

Super League was unsponsored last year after the previous arrangement with haulage firm Stobart – which involved advertising on trucks, but no cash – was ended two years early.

Hetherington described the deal as “good news for the game” and predicted it will lead to an upturn in the competition’s fortunes.

He said: “The last few years have been a difficult time for the game, with the well-publicised financial problems at quite a number of clubs, the Stobart deal and the lack of a title sponsor.

“All those factors in the last four-year period have made it a very difficult market, but I think the tide has turned and this new title sponsorship heralds a sea change in how our game is seen and presented in the UK sports industry market.

“It will also lead to benefits for Super League clubs as they go in search of their own sponsors, both locally and nationally.”

Hetherington added: “A major sponsor on the back of quite a number of new partnership sponsors has brought record levels of income into Super League.

“It’s a significant one for the sport and it’s not only the cash that’s important. Having a major partner who will be spending a significant amount in their support of Super League and rugby league is also important.

“We have now got a group of major companies associated with the Super League competition and more money than we’ve had in the past.

“It’s something to be welcomed by the clubs and it’s a good effort by James Mercer, Super League’s commercial director.”

Hailing the new agreement, Mercer said: “We are very excited about First Utility’s commitment to the sport.

“We have been working with the company over the last few months to create a unique partnership which will support both our significant growth aspirations.

“Super League partnerships deliver tremendous benefits across all 14 clubs and our commitment to delivering success for all our partners is very important.”

The deal was announced just four days after clubs voted to reduce the competition by two to 12 sides in 2015 and introduce a radical new format, which will see the top-flight and Championship split into three divisions of eight midway through the year.

It is understood First Utility had already signed up before last week’s decision, but Super League chief executive Nigel Wood insisted: “2014 will be a particularly exciting period in the commerical development of the sport.”

Ed Kamm, First Utility’s chief customer officer, said: “As a fast-growing alternative to the ‘Big Six’ energy companies if felt right to partner with a growing sport to help build more awareness for our brand.

“We’re big fans of rugby league and are proud to be part of the Super League community.”

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