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Thomond Park naming rights still on the cards as Munster chip away at debt

IRFU CEO Philip Browne says union and province ‘have an agreement in place and everyone’s happy about that.’

MUNSTER RUGBY IS still looking at the possibility of selling the naming rights for Thomond Park as it continues to repay its debt to the IRFU.

A loan from the national union helped the southern province to redevelop the Limerick stadium in 2007/08.

A general view of Thomond Park ahead of the game Thomond Park is an iconic rugby venue. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There have been struggles for Munster to repay that debt in recent years, although a €2.6 million payment in 2017/18 helped the province to reduce the total owed to its current €6.86 million.

The 2017/18 season also saw the province renegotiate its schedule of loan repayments with the IRFU, reducing their scheduled repayments down from €500,000 to €100,000 per year.

The new deal also means that the IRFU will receive 50% of Munster’s multi-year ticket sales, 50% multi-year corporate box sales, as well as 50% of any Thomond Park naming rights income on an annual basis.

Despite having employed a consultant to explore selling the naming rights for Thomond Park in 2016 and pushing to find suitable partners for a deal in recent years, Munster Rugby has not yet found naming rights partners.

The selling of naming rights to Thomond Park is a divisive issue, given the stadium’s proud history and status in Limerick and the rest of the province.

However, the sale of naming rights has become more common in modern rugby, even in Ireland, with Lansdowne Road becoming the Aviva Stadium, Ravenhill in Belfast now being known as Kingspan Stadium and Munster’s own Musgrave Park in Cork now officially named Irish Independent Park.

Speaking before the IRFU’s AGM last week, union CEO Philip Browne indicated that Munster Rugby is still exploring the possibility of selling the naming rights for Thomond Park.

“Yeah, it’s still on the cards,” said Browne. “They’re looking at it.

“The difficulty with naming rights – and I’ll speak against this myself – is that it’s much easier to sell naming rights for a new stadium than it is for a stadium that’s already there.

“Having said that, the naming rights in the Aviva Stadium is probably one of the most successful naming rights.

A general view of Thomond Park Munster are still looking at selling naming rights to Thomond Park. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Does anyone call the place Lansdowne Road anymore? People of a certain generation possibly, but the traction that it got has been really quite remarkable and that deal has been extended to 2025, which is great.”

The IRFU would naturally benefit from Munster agreeing to any naming rights deal, with 50% of the possible annual income going towards paying off the province’s debt to the union.

With Munster having cut that debt down to €6.86 million, Browne indicated that the IRFU had been happy to restructure the repayments schedule to €100,000 annually.

“They’re chipping away at it,” said Browne. “The reality is that professional rugby is a marginal business.

“For all our provinces, the difference between breaking even and a loss is marginal. The difference between success and failure can boil down to things like getting a home quarter-final in Europe or not.

“Munster have done pretty well in terms of their performances on the park, which has managed to keep them financially in reasonable shape.

“There would be little point of the union putting them under more significant pressure and saying, ‘We want the loan back now.’ It’s a question of them continuing to chip away at it. We’re happy we have an agreement in place and everyone’s happy about that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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