Across the Laighin – The team behind the team: Kevin Quinn
November 17, 2022 10:35 am Site Editor
‘Across The Laighin’ is the magazine published exclusively for Season Ticket holders.
The sixth edition went live at the end of the summer and we will be giving Leinster Rugby supporters access to excerpts from some of the interviews and feature pieces.
The end of the summer is usually the time to count the pennies and balance the books in Leinster Rugby head office and this year is no different. Off the back of a first season of relative normality and fewer Covid-19 interruptions, it is time to take stock.
As the Head of Commercial and Marketing in Leinster Rugby, Kevin Quinn’s role is to make sure that as many zeros as possible are landing on the revenue side of the ledger.
It’s the simplest way of explaining what he does in a role that he started in September 2017.
“As part of our Commercial team, I have the pleasure of working with 11 highly skilled colleagues, to plan and execute Leinster Rugby’s commercial strategy, our broad goals being to drive revenue growth, enhance fan engagement and create exceptional match-day experiences for our supporters.
“Our primary responsibility is to bring in the revenue to support everything from the community and domestic rugby programmes, through to the professional team and their contracts and all of the staff, teams and activities between both.”
It’s a tall order but he is now planning for his fifth season at the helm.
The first season for Quinn saw Leinster Rugby celebrate an historic on-field double of European and domestic success, while off the field things weren’t looking too shabby either.
There were new sponsorship deals with Bank of Ireland and a multi-year naming rights partnership with Energia, for Energia Park in Donnybrook. There were also impressive season ticket numbers of over 12,200, an increase of just over 1,000 from the season before.
Those numbers continued to rise steadily over the following few years and for the last ‘normal’ season, back in 2018/29, 12,838 punters had signed up to be Leinster Rugby season ticket holders. Adidas had also now come on board as a premium partner, as had BearingPoint, while LAYA and others had re-committed to long-term contract extensions.
All very positive.
But flash forward from those early days and the landscape is now very different.
Covid-19 has decimated much of the good work that has been done off the field by Quinn and his commercial team and indeed by their predecessors to the point that Leinster Rugby, like many other businesses, are almost starting from scratch.
“Delighted Covid’s gone! – or touch wood, it’s gone – and certainly those large-scale closures and lockdowns will hopefully be a thing of the past.
“There were so many challenges and the monotony of planning and then re-planning and just never knowing when you could get back up and running. A huge amount of work went into a lot of ‘maybes’ that never materialised. That was frustrating and very draining.
“Mick (Dawson – Leinster Rugby CEO) is on the record already stating that the majority of our revenue comes in through the gates so when that disappears, and it did disappear, you have to pivot and try different things. We had to plan and try a number of different ways to remain relevant.
“We had to increase our digital output to engage with our Leinster community and keep them up to speed about what was happening in this bubble, because it was a bubble in here without supporters at games.
“Our supporters, our sponsors, all our key stakeholders could no longer attend our match-day events. If we can’t bring them to the games and have them at our events, how do we stay connected, how can we ensure our supporters, our sponsors, all our stakeholders stay engaged with Leinster Rugby. That was a huge challenge.”
Far from feeling down and deflated, Quinn sees room for positivity and opportunity in the post-Covid-19 landscape.
“There were actually some positives that came out of it but as we’ve already touched on, a huge amount of hardship and it’s important we don’t forget that, important we learn from that.
“People lost lives, lost loved ones, lost jobs. It was so challenging and people having to make difficult choices.
“Looking to the positives, for me in my role, was seeing our commercial team here in Leinster really pull together and come up with new ideas and work really hard to deliver success for our stakeholders in such difficult circumstances.
“Like everyone we were working at home, with kids, with home-schooling, caring for families, with all that going on and we also had issues around short-time contracts for all our staff in the commercial, marketing and administration teams which was hugely difficult.
“Then consider the wider stakeholder group outside of HQ here in UCD. Our sponsors and our partners in particular and how they stood by us and with us and that really reinforced to me that notion of a Leinster ‘family’ and that it isn’t just a name and a logo associated with the club.
“Most of our premium partners are with us over eight years and that really strong relationship stood to us during those difficult days for sport, for retail, for events, for society.
“And then finally you look at our club’s fantastic supporters. Pre-Covid we reached over 12,000 season ticket holders. With no matches to attend during Covid over 6,000 of them continued their support to Leinster Rugby by way of an associate membership with no guarantee for any return on their contributions. That was simply amazing and we are so appreciative of their incredible generosity.”
What does coming out of COVID look like for him?
“We are in the middle of budget planning for the 22/23 season and we can look at a budget for the year ahead that – again, touch wood – will run without interruption, we hope.
“That is brilliant to have to plan and really look forward to next season with a fixture list that won’t change and fixtures, events and experiences that we can welcome our supporters to.
“The last time we had that clarity was 2018/19, the last full season without interruptions. That’s a long time ago.”
A lot of talk so far in our chat about the Leinster Rugby revenue model, but what does it look like from his point of view?
“The three main areas that we generate revenue from would be ticket sales, which is just over 50 per cent of our revenue stream, the second would be the commercial programme of sponsors, merchandise, retail and licensing, and the final element is the support we get from the IRFU and the Government, specifically for domestic and community rugby and contracting.
“Those are the core pillars of our revenue model here in Leinster Rugby.”
The landscape is changing all the time though and it is something that Quinn is very mindful of and keen to guard against.
“We saw it during Covid, didn’t we? Over 50 per cent of your revenue stream gone and gone in the blink of an eye. And yet, so much of our costs stayed the same.
“That is a dangerous place to be in the long-term so it is something that we have been actively looking at as a club, even before Covid-19, looking at other sources of revenue and to reduce that reliance on ticketing.
“It’s a constant work-on for us. How to minimise and de-leverage our risk from an over-reliance on ticket sales because ticket sales are so dependent on performances and results on the pitch. Professional sport – no team wins all the time. So we need to reduce our over-reliance on ticket sales for sure.
“Even the most well-resourced teams in the world of sport, don’t always scale the height of their season, reach the pinnacle of their competitions. Manchester City and their quest for a Champions League, even with their monster resources, it still eludes them.
“We’re working hard on developing our broader commercial strategy. For example our sponsorship programme where we are heading into a new cycle with some of our premium partners. That will allow us to look positively at new options there, for sure. Likewise with our merchandising and retail strategy.
“Consider our recent work with our innovation partner BearingPoint, their support and expertise enabling Leinster Rugby to be one of the first clubs globally to launch a virtual stadium in the metaverse. That’s the very start, the very first steps for us into a new virtual world, all with a view and the ambition to examine new ways to engage with our supporters and search out new commercial opportunities for the club.
It would help hugely if the supporters had a modern stadium to look forward to and that is surely part of the conundrum.
A stadium redevelopment plan for the RDS Arena was announced nearly eight years ago to the day to much fanfare at the Ballsbridge venue.
Despite early positivity around the architectural tender and then the planning process, and even recent positivity around the awarding of a large scale sports infrastructure grant of €10m from the Government, no sod has yet been turned.
“It certainly hasn’t been for the lack of effort! Covid-19 didn’t help over the last few years but the RDS have been hugely proactive over the last year and a half or so, in particular.
“Geraldine Ruane, their new CEO, has been very positive and has really taken to the project and driven it on since she started.
“I worked very closely with the RDS and the IRFU on their application to the Government to win public funding of €10m to support the redevelopment project. We have a naming rights partner and we are now in the process of filling the last gap in terms of funding and the strong hope is that we will be in a position to announce our plans very soon.
“Of course, we’d like the redevelopment to have been done before now, but for many reasons it hasn’t yet happened. However, we now have a very clear plan of what we expect the next few years will look like, an evolved vision of what the new RDS Arena will look like and I think our supporters, our players, our partners, everyone is going to love it.
“The new RDS Arena will enable us to create an all-new match-day experience, an occasion and not just a match.”
The occasion may rely on facilities, but it also relies hugely on supporters and a passionate supporter base at that.
Quinn is a regular attendee at the Laighin Out Bar at the RDS on match days and takes pride in the relationship between the team and its supporters, ably led by the OLSC.
“We are very lucky in Leinster to have a hugely committed core group of supporters in the OLSC (the Official Leinster Supporters Club). These are volunteers let’s remember with jobs and families and all the other stresses and strains that life throws at you!
“And yet they put themselves forward for election every year to do a mountain of work for their fellow season ticket holders.
“At a very basic level they drive the ‘sea of blue’ for us on match days and some of the most iconic moments that I can think of like Bilbao, Newcastle, Celtic Park, even most recently at Marseille, it was all the better for that support. The noise, the colour, the sheer numbers. Amazing.
“Actually, in Marseille we were all set up to welcome the team bus but unfortunately security re-routed the team bus to another direction so the players only saw a glimpse of the amazing Marseille sea of blue waiting to welcome them. Thousands of Leinster supporters, and the fun, the singing, the drums, the smiles, the craic, that was so special.
“And thousands there despite the logistical difficulties in getting there and the cost. It was incredible really.
“But beyond that we meet with the OLSC regularly, once a month or thereabouts and we bounce ideas or they come at us with things they’d like to do. And overall I just think they are a really positive reflection of our supporters. What they do for the legends and the t-shirts they design with proceeds from sales going to charity. Their Q&As with players.
“The list goes on and we are very lucky and they have been part of discussions for the RDS redevelopment and they have been part of conversations around the brand project, and the future of Leinster Rugby.
“Just like I mentioned earlier with our sponsors and partnerships. Similarly the OLSC really are a crucial stakeholder and partner in Leinster Rugby’s continued success, and long may that continue.”
Quinn is in the job as Head of Commercial and Marketing coming up on five years now but what is his own back story?
Early on was a keen interest in technology.
“The love for technology started back in school and I used to be messing around with old radios. Back in the days of black and white TVs! But I used to love messing around. Breaking them, fixing them. Enjoyed that.
“And then into the lighting and sound requirements for school plays and running the backstage production. That keen interest in technology continued into college and doing electronic and telecommunications engineering.
“After finishing in college, I then went to work in TV as an editor in a post-production company called Screen Scene, to then satellite broadcasting where I helped to set up what was at the time, the first digital satellite services company in the UK and Ireland.
“My initial steps into the business of sport started around then too, taking on the role of Transmission Controller to all international satellite broadcasts for Setanta Sports.
“Following that in 1998 I set up Servecast, a new company focused exclusively on streaming media services which was the market leader in Europe at the time. Working with Barcelona FC and Liverpool FC for example and streaming live audio commentary of their matches for the likes of Sky Sports.
“So technology was always an important interest for me and specifically the role technology has played over the last 25 years in driving the commercialisation of sport.”
He attended Gonzaga College before taking a degree in Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering in DIT in Kevin Street – now known as TU Dublin – and he added further strings to his bow with a Masters in Science, specialising in Technology and Innovation Management, again in TU Dublin.
When you see the modern sporting media landscape it is hard to think of a time before streaming and before games from all over the world being broadcast straight into your living room, and indeed to your device.
Now his day-to-day role in Leinster Rugby is mostly removed from that keen interest in technology and more tightly focused on commercialisation of his favourite sport, rugby.
He has overall control of the commercial programme in Leinster Rugby, leading a multi-faceted team of 11 colleagues tasked with various roles from ticketing to sponsorship, to marketing and brand, communications and match-day operations.
All with a focus on growing both the audience and revenue streams of Leinster Rugby through whatever discipline they work in.
“Covid was such a difficult time for the Commercial team in Leinster Rugby. We lost key team members through no fault of their own. We were put on short time during Covid-19 so some people chose to move on.
“That was a hugely difficult period. Since then we’ve had new colleagues coming in and they brought great energy and enthusiasm, new ideas and a new dynamism, which will drive us on again next season and makes planning for the new season really exciting.
“Despite the changes and challenges last season, our small team successfully delivered six fantastic events in Aviva Stadium on top of all our regular season matches in the RDS and in Energia Park, the Bank of Ireland Schools Cups, the Leinster Clubs finals, our Bank of Ireland summer camps programme, the Awards Ball, everything. The list goes on!
“It’s a phenomenal amount of work for a small team and I’m incredibly proud and appreciative of the skill, energy and focus they consistently bring to their work.
While Quinn and his team keep a keen eye on the amount coming in, budgets are also a keen consideration, especially at a time of rising costs and inflation impacting on all elements of his work.
It would be easy to drive hard but everything is measured and, crucially, everyone must buy in and work together.
“Inflation and the costs are only going up so we have to make sure that we maximise the return on everything that we do from a revenue point of view.
“Every type of output we do has to deliver. Communications, brand work, sponsorship, ticketing. They all have to deliver.
“There are tools now at our disposal that allow us to track and measure the respective value of everything we create. This is great, a real positive, that helps us to plan, review, learn and improve how we work and keeps us all accountable. That’s a measure of our constant pursuit of excellence, our drive to improve. But it is also important that as a team we understand that we have to deliver, and not just for Leinster Rugby but for our partners too.
“That’s been a big part of our drive to improve over the last 18 months, to adopt a more collaborative approach with our partners and really understand what’s important for them, what success looks like for them and how we can jointly achieve more. I’d like to think that we do that well here in Leinster Rugby.
“It’s important we both understand each other’s objectives and I think and I hope that is reflected in the longevity of so many of our partnerships. They are invested in us, as much as a we are invested in them and it’s to all our benefit that we make it work.
While Quinn has no direct involvement in on-field matters, there is one element of change coming in that sphere that he knows will impact on his side of the house.
The development of the girls and the women’s game is an area of huge interest to Quinn and he is excited about the growth potential, potential new European women’s rugby tournaments and new commercial opportunities that will arise for players and Leinster Rugby over the coming years.
Again, Quinn is excited by what that looks like and is already steeling himself for the positive impact on himself and his team and indeed the impact for all stakeholders.
“I think the changes, the positive changes I should say, that are coming down the tracks will feature prominently in how we manage our commercial programme in the coming years.
“The women’s game will change hugely in the coming seasons. I’d imagine it will be night and day. The IRFU have already spoken about contracting and the expectation there that there will be the first contracts for women rugby players later this year.
“As that evolves at an elite level, it’s important for us in Leinster Rugby to create the platform for those players to evolve and to be the best that they can be. So we need to create a set-up, the perfect environment for them to meet and exceed their own expectations.
“No doubt it will be a considerable challenge to finance a new Leinster Rugby professional team but it is also a massive opportunity. How can we create that environment for a new squad of professional players to excel and then create a buzz, a new energy around them? How do we develop new revenue streams to support their efforts, get more people to the their games, tell their stories better and more often, devise new sponsorship opportunities there exclusively to build and support our new professional women’s programme?
“That is something to get hugely excited by. How do we make our new professional women’s programme self-sustaining? One that supports itself and is revenue generating just like our professional men’s programme and drives on our constant pursuit of excellence?”
Quinn demonstrated his ambitions for a professional women’s rugby programme on his arrival four years ago. Initial steps have certainly been taken over the last few seasons to generate more funding and create stronger foundations for girls and women’s rugby in the 12 counties whilst also giving prominence to the game and to the players.
More WDOs – women’s development officers – have been hired by Leinster Rugby to focus on the girls’ game and the development in clubs and to introduce the sport into more and more schools.
There have been double-headers with the men’s team in Energia Park and history making occasions like delivering the first ever women’s club match in the home of English Rugby, Twickenham, when Harlequins hosted Leinster Rugby.
“If you look at where the game could get to, why wouldn’t you want to be involved? As a sponsor, why wouldn’t you want to kick-start that journey and be there from the start?
“The talk, and it’s more than talk to be fair, is about a first women’s rugby tournament in Europe in the coming seasons and what that could look like. We have to ensure that Leinster Rugby are flying the flag for Ireland in any such European tournament. And the British and Irish Lions have already committed to examining a women’s team and a feasibility project is underway into that.
“So between now and then it is important that we continue to do everything in our power to ensure that our women’s team is challenging at the business end of the season and in the Interpros and that for our players there are no hurdles for them so they are as prepared as they can be.
“They’ve got a new head coach in Tania Rosser, the women’s development programme is being driven by Philip Lawlor and by Jennie Bagnall and her team on the ground, so there is again, huge work already underway.”
As we near the start of another season, while he may wish to move the dial somewhat away from the reliance on ticketing, for now, that reliance stays.
But thankfully, Quinn is happy to share that the season ticket numbers are returning.
“We are over 100 per cent of where we were last season in terms of sales and that is a reflection of how well the team went last season, how well they played, the tries scored, the style of rugby, the exciting young players coming through the system. That’s a direct outcome of the phenomenal work put in by the entire squad, by Stuart, Felipe, Robyn, Emmet, all the backroom staff brilliantly led by Leo and Guy. So the product on the pitch is good and that helps hugely.
While it would be easy for Quinn and his team to remain focused on this season, especially coming out of Covid, taking just a short-term view does not fit with his ambitions for the future.
Over the last few years, a new brand and commercial strategy has been developed for the Leinster Rugby Branch. This goal of this project, led by Quinn, is to plan a course for continued success both on and off the pitch for Leinster Rugby over the seasons ahead.
“It was the first time that we had undertaken a club-wide project to look at our brand and how that relates to developing a long-term and successful commercial strategy to fuel our continued pursuit of excellence. We conducted close to 60 interviews from stakeholder groups all across the province. Everyone played a part in answering a very simple question, ‘Why does Leinster Rugby exist?’
“Players, coaches, Academy, sub-Academy, supporters, staff, the executive, the OLSC, volunteers, referees, everyone had a voice.
“And we settled at the end of that project on a purpose statement for Leinster Rugby which is that ‘Leinster Rugby exists to nurture and drive the pursuit of excellence at all levels of our 12-county community’.
“That idea of the pursuit of excellence is at the heart of everything we do, regardless of what level of play, of what level or type of your interaction with Leinster Rugby.
“It’s been a fascinating and hugely energising project. The next stage of the project is to roll it out across the province over the next few seasons. Long-term success can be achieved, can continue when everyone across the Leinster Branch, across our Leinster Rugby community is aligned to the same simple purpose, all of us united and pushing in the same direction. When we take shared responsibility for our long-term pursuit of excellence and how we go about that, continued success can be achieved.
“Consider the latest census that identified over 3.1 million people living in Leinster. So, we have the largest playing base of the four provinces, the most clubs and the largest number of schools playing. If we can unite and align all of those resources to the pursuit of excellence, that’s a powerful thing.
“Long-term success is not just the responsibility of the commercial team, this is the shared responsibility of all stakeholders across the Leinster Branch and our 12-county rugby community.
“It’s the first time that we have the opportunity to achieve that unity in purpose across our club. That’s across the team here, yes, but also the players, the coaches, our rugby community, our teams, our clubs and schools, the OLSC, our sponsors and partners. Once unity is achieved and everyone buys in, I truly believe long-term success is almost guaranteed.”
That’s the last piece of the puzzle for Quinn. A strategy to deliver long-term success.
So, what does success look like for Quinn in the months and years ahead?
He doesn’t put a financial number on it necessarily, instead he looks at the dual mandate of the organisation.
“You have to first look at our model. It is a model that is built on community and in our 12 counties. We don’t actively go to market each year and buy up players from abroad.
“We have a dual mandate. Yes, we run a professional rugby team, and let’s call that the tip of the iceberg, but beneath that we have a mandate to the domestic rugby game, to develop, promote and drive the participation in amateur clubs and schools rugby from minis to adults across the province.
“Our men and women players at the elite level come from our clubs and our schools. Everyone starts at their local club. So that club piece has to be right, all our clubs have to thrive. They are our foundation stone.
“On the rugby side, success for me looks like more people playing and enjoying rugby at all levels of the game across the 12 counties. That we are driving that player pathway in the boys and the girls game, and that our clubs and our schools and our referees and our coaches and our volunteer base continues to grow.
“And that at whatever level of the game you engage with Leinster Rugby, you see excellence.
“You enjoy your experience, you have fun and you want to come back. You’re enthusiastic to stay involved, you want to commit to do more. From a commercial and marketing point of view, we can deliver the revenue to support these ambitions, we can support this through our communications, through our sponsorship programmes, through our marketing and activations.
“We can help deliver that growth, that success, on the rugby side of the house, definitely and like we spoke about earlier there are huge opportunities for growth coming down the line like in the women’s game.
“We’re also planning for and expect to have a redeveloped RDS Arena in the coming seasons and the ambition is that Leinster Rugby matches will be packed more often than not. I would love that.
“That we have driven on with our partners and sponsors and maybe add two or three more key partners to that journey.
“And that we continue to grow our revenue base and the diversity therein, which is crucial as I mentioned earlier for helping to fund that progress at all levels of the game.”
The author, Deepak Chopra, once said, “If you focus on success, you’ll have stress. But if you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.”
For Quinn and his team, and their own pursuit of excellence, that is the plan.