News today that Guinness will become the title sponsor of the men's Six Nations was a stark reminder that the women's tournament remains the poor relation when it comes to brands and sponsorship.
While Guinness have come on board as an official sponsor of the women's competition (although strangely it took prodding from Scrumqueens to uncover this news because it was not revealed in today's formal announcement) it will not be as the title sponsor.
The Six Nations confirmed in a statement that while it was actively working on securing a specific title sponsor for the women's tournament, it had, it said, "made the decision to not link the Women’s Six Nations to the men as we want to them the Women’s Championship to have its own identity."
It is puzzling that the competition should continue to struggle to attract a mainstay sponsor, despite the well known challenge of luring investment into women's sports.
The competition’s profile is on the rise and its broadcast output was at an all time high last year, where every game was available live either on television, or streamed live on Six Nations and Unions digital channels and some 17,440 fans packed Grenoble’s Stade des Alpes in March to watch France v England. A dedicated roundup highlights programme was available both on the BBC Network on Sunday evenings in the UK and on RTE on Monday evening in Ireland, giving would-be sponsors an excellent chance to get their brand in front of a wide and highly engaged audience.
The women's Six Nations has never had its own standalone sponsor but next year the competition will have its first fulltime professional team (England) and will feature a French team who are in the form of their lives, having toppled world champions New Zealand recently in front of 17,000 home fans.
The competition has surely never been more attractive to fans, who are likely to reward it with even stronger ticket sales and broadcast interest, and it seems ripe for a relevant brand to attach its organisation firmly to its logo.
Women's rugby remains one of the fastest growing sports in the world and within rugby it is women and girls who are predominantly driving up participation levels, with the men's game, across a large number of developed rugby nations, stagnating or in decline. That there is no one sponsor who has firmly stamped itself as a "women's rugby" partner, despite its low entry costs. is a missed opportunity.
The game needs brands and their marketing directors to have the imagination and creativity needed to do something different and we must hope that the Six Nations and governing bodies themselves are using every possible piece of data and evidence to show them just why it will be worth it in the long run.