As sponsorship announcements go, the statement earlier this month touting Guinness as the new title sponsor of the Women’s Six Nations Rugby tournament was strange.
It’s not that the Irish brewer was an odd choice to partner with the nearly 30-year-old international rugby union competition between six European women’s national teams. Quite the opposite is true: Guinness took naming rights to the Men’s Six Nations tourney in 2019 and has been a partner with the women’s event since that time. Six Nations Rugby Ltd. CEO Tom Harrison is quoted in the press release as saying, “Guinness and the Six Nations have become synonymous.”
The new agreement includes an extension of the men’s title sponsorship and, according to the announcement, the addition of the women’s title for Guinness “is a representation of its commitment to create a better society through diversity and inclusion, as part of (parent company) Diageo’s ‘Society 2030: Spirit of Progress’ agenda.”
So what was strange? The celebration of the new title partner contained no mention that it was replacing TikTok, which had two years remaining on the groundbreaking agreement it signed two years ago to become the women’s tournament’s first-ever naming rights sponsor. Typically when a high-profile partner exits early, some reference is made, even if it’s just in passing.
Although there is no indication that TikTok’s departure was acrimonious, we are left to wonder what caused its premature departure. England’s The Telegraph is thus far the only news outlet to report on a potential reason. It states without attribution that the Chinese-owned TikTok is “reviewing all their sports and entertainment partnerships.” The newspaper also states that “the move comes as governments in the U.S., Europe and Canada are escalating proposals to restrict access to TikTok, citing security threats.”
Whether the decision to cut ties was made by the sponsor as part of an overall portfolio review or perhaps by the rights holder concerned about a partnership with a controversial company, the potential loss of TikTok as a sponsorship player is a blow to its current and prospective sports and entertainment partners.
TikTok has shown itself to be a valuable contributor to the sports ecosystem. As pointed out in a blog post here in 2021, the company has surpassed many of its competitors by going beyond being a content distributor to sponsoring teams, leagues and events. Without diminishing the security concerns surrounding the company, it would be a shame to lose a valuable marketing partner for properties.