Royal Bank of Scotland’s global banking ambitions are
mirrored in its roster of sponsorship deals, backing some of the
sports world’s biggest events. Douglas Blakey talks to RBS head of
group sponsorship David Webb about the bank’s sponsorship strategy
and its latest ad campaign fronted by golf star Jack
Few banks have thrown themselves into sports sponsorship with quite
the vigour as the world’s largest bank by assets, Royal Bank of
Scotland (RBS). With a multi-million pound budget promoting its
multi-brand strategy and backed by an impressive stable of brand
ambassadors, the RBS sports portfolio includes rugby, cricket,
baseball, tennis, Formula 1 and equestrian events.
But the bank’s oldest sports deal, as well as its most recent
sports agreement, centres on golf. RBS can claim one of the
longest-running sponsorship deals in sports history via its
partnership with golf’s governing body, The Royal and Ancient,
which dates back over a century; in May, RBS agreed a four-year
agreement with the United States Golf Association (USGA), the
national governing body of golf in the US.
The bank’s tie-up with the USGA will involve RBS contributing to
US golf’s ‘For the Good of the Game’ initiative, with a focus on
introducing the game to junior golfers, providing brand awareness
opportunities for its US brands Citizens and Charter One.
RBS will also help develop new media content for the USGA,
including the websites USGA.org and USOpen.com.
And the most successful golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, RBS
brand ambassador since 2003 and winner of a record 18 majors, takes
pride of place in the bank’s current global ad campaign, with ads
developed by the bank’s media partner M&C Saatchi running in US
golfing and business publications.
“He’s still the man to beat,” said the bank’s head of group
sponsorship, David Webb, in an interview with RBI.
While conceding that golf is a crowded market with a dozen or
more banking groups, including UK-based rivals HSBC and Barclays,
sponsoring golf tournaments on the US and European tours, Webb
argues RBS has “carved out a niche area and associated ourselves
with just the major championships – The Open [in the UK], the US
Open and also the USPGA.”
At The Open, RBS benefits from Official Bank status as well as
extensive advertising and branding rights.
“We have been involved in golf for more than 100 years,” Webb
says. “Golf delivers the target audience we are looking to
communicate with, which we call C-suite executives such as chief
executive officers, chief marketing officers and chief financial
officers… The research we have says the majority of this audience
plays golf and is interested in the sport.”
At grassroots level, the bank supports The Daily Telegraph
Junior Golf Championship, the world’s largest junior competition
with entries from more than 1,000 clubs and 45,000 golfers.
In respect of the bank’s global strategy, Webb says: “If you
flatten the world out, essentially we split the world into three:
the US, UK and Asia-Pacific. Golf primarily looks after the US
market. Two of our three majors’ sponsorships take place over there
and we also have sports ambassadors, Paula Creamer [a leading
player on the ladies tour], Jack Nicklaus and Luke Donald, who
plays on the US tour.”
The main focus of RBS sponsorship activity in the UK is the
bank’s title sponsorship of the annual Six Nations rugby
tournament, which it has supported since 2003.
“It is primarily there to service retail within the UK and parts
of Europe as well, and for Asia we have our sponsorship of the
Williams Formula 1 team.”
RBS has sponsored Williams since 2005 and, in 2007, agreed a
three-year extension of the agreement, with estimates in the
sporting press suggesting the deal would cost RBS in the region of
$14 million a year. “Commercially sensitive,” says Webb.
The deal was renewed despite the Williams team failing to
challenge for either the driver’s or constructor’s championships,
having failed to win any of the last 60 Grand Prix, with its most
recent win dating back to 2004.
“Sport being sport there will be winners and there will be teams
doing not quite so well. It makes life a lot easier if you are
winning within sport to market it and it makes our jobs a lot
harder if we are with a team that is probably not at the front of
“We find ways to get around that and provide awareness of the
brand in other areas. We do a lot of research that gives us areas
where people are interested, we have experiential programmes
running and a huge trackside programme at seven or eight races a
year giving us the TV visibility we are after globally.”
According to Webb, the mere association with Williams brings its
“Winning is not the be-all and end-all of being involved in the
sport. Williams has a fantastic pedigree.
“That partnership enables us to spin off wonderful activation
programmes and Williams themselves have a very comprehensive
marketing team which helps us to ally ourselves with the target
audience we want to communicate with.”
RBS has used F1 to highlight its close co-operation with Bank of
China, in which it has a 10 percent stake, with the Williams F1
cars at the Chinese Grand Prix bearing both RBS and Bank of China
The bank’s F1 interests also benefit from the significant
presence of three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart as an RBS
ambassador, with tennis and equestrian events supported by the
bank’s sponsorship of Andy Murray and Zara Phillips.
While Murray, who sports the RBS logo on his right sleeve during
tournaments, is now a rising star in world tennis with a top 10
ranking, RBS has supported him since he began to play junior tennis
As well as being an early advocate of using ‘brand ambassadors’
to convey its marketing message, RBS was one of the first European
banks to agree a significant US naming rights deal. Since 2004,
Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies have played their
home games at Citizens Bank Park, having signed a $57.5 million,
25-year deal with RBS’s US subsidiary Citizens. In addition, the
bank invested a further $37.5 million to become the sole financial
services advertiser on Phillies’s television and radio.
“We are committed to the deal for a number of years,” Webb
explains. “It was a fantastic means of communicating the brand
within that region. There was no other way that we could have done
it so quickly and the feedback we have from the Citizens team is
that it has been a huge success.”
Sponsorship in the UK
The bank’s English retail subsidiary, NatWest, has also been a
prominent sponsor of UK sport, having been associated with
cricket’s principal limited overs cricket competition, The NatWest
Trophy, from 1981 to 2000.
Since that long-running deal ended, NatWest has supported
international cricket with the annual NatWest series followed by
sponsorship of the NatWest Challenge, the NatWest Women’s Series
and, more recently, the NatWest Twenty20 internationals and the
NatWest Pro40 domestic cricket league.
Webb says he does not envisage RBS changing tack and adopting
the single sport strategy of some banks which have made a conscious
decision to stick to one sport and aim for recognition as the
leading sponsor of that single sport (such as BNP Paribas’s support
of tennis – see RBI 592). “We find that different sports
work differently in different markets, so that is why we have gone
down that route.”
But the RBS sports programme is, says Webb, unlikely to feature
football – by far the most popular sport in its Scottish home
market and a sport targeted in the past year by fellow F1 sponsor
When its main Scottish retail rival Bank of Scotland ended its
sponsorship of the country’s Premier League competition (SPL) in
2007, the country’s fourth-largest bank, Clydesdale snapped up the
SPL deal without any apparent interest being shown in the event by
“We are a global company and we sponsor global sports. We have
not gone down that [football] road purely because our target
audience is more interested in the sports we are already involved
in,” Webb says. “We are happy with the assortment we have at the
For all of the bank’s sponsorship activity around the world, RBS
undertakes an internal evaluation process to determine if the
objectives of the deal have been met.
“We align it with our objectives and that is to communicate with
our target audience. In some countries RBS will be known very well
and in some markets it will not be known at all. So we measure the
success of our sponsorships in line with what we do in our
advertising and that is through an awareness study.
“Dependent on how successful the advertising has been will
depend on how high our awareness levels have risen or dropped.”
One RBS marketing initiative which certainly caught the public
imagination was RBS’s decision to issue a limited edition £5 ($10)
note in 2005, bearing an image of Jack Nicklaus.
“It was very successful. It celebrated Jack’s final round at his
last Open and it was a lovely way to do it and Jack thought of it
as a very sentimental activity and really enjoyed it. It was great
for the Open, great for Jack and very good PR for us.”
As for other firms admired for the way in which they market
themselves, Webb gives two examples. “I am impressed with how Rolex
carry out their sponsorships and do it in a very targeted high-end
way, and Accenture use Tiger Woods incredibly well.”