Top-flight Rugby Union club Sale Sharks today announced the largest sponsorship deal in the history of the club, with Manchester-based cloud and colocation firm UKFast.
The undisclosed seven-figure deal sees the firm return as shirt sponsor of the club after a five-year break, with Sale Sharks ready to compete for the European Champions Cup this season after finishing sixth in the Aviva Premiership.
UKFast sponsored the club from 2000 to 2010, when CEO Lawrence Jones MBE ended the deal following the departure of fly-half Charlie Hodgson and several other senior players. Jones was regarded as instrumental in growing the fan base at Edgeley Park to more than 10,000, alongside Nathan Bombrys, now Managing Director of Glasgow Warriors.
Jones said: "I am delighted to join The Sharks once again. I remember the first day I wedged my foot in the door of their portacabin at Heywood Road in 2000. They had a good laugh after I predicted their fans would one day use the internet for tickets and news!
"It was a great relationship; we couldn’t afford to give money so we invested huge amounts of our time and we built technology that helped the club fill the stadium."
News of the sponsorship deal follows last month’s takeover of the club and the departure of long-term owner Brian Kennedy.
Sale Sharks have since boosted their squad with a host of new star signings, including ex-Wales international Mike Phillips and Halani Aulika, who joins the club from London Irish.
Jones said: "This partnership is more than a logo on a shirt. UKFast has been associated with Sale Sharks for more than a decade. It’s a club that is incredibly close to my heart and I can’t wait to contribute to its success.
"My goal is to work with the club and share our experience of creating a world-class experience for everyone: fans, players’ wives and families, the press, the away supporters – everyone has to leave the ground on a high. We’ve made some incredible friendships with players, management, fans, and I am so excited to reignite that Friday night magic and making The Sharks the number one go-to event in Manchester again."
Sale Sharks’ commercial director, Mark Cueto, who retired last year after a 15 year stint at the club, said: "I knew we needed Lawrence and UKFast back. He eats, breathes and sleeps rugby. He was much more than just a sponsor. He has already helped us secure a number of other high-profile businesses to the mix and the energy he brings is infectious. I can already feel the momentum gathering.
"Manchester needs top-level professional sports clubs and not just football. We have squash, cycling and for Manchester to be a truly international city we have to be winning on all fronts."
Director of Rugby Steve Diamond said: "We bumped into Lawrence on a Sharks ski trip on a night out in Verbier at the Farinet Hotel. It turned out he owned the place and we ended up talking rugby. Lawrence said that if we wanted to buy the club, we could count him in. Cueto and I called him before the ink was dry and it was the quickest deal I have ever done.
"UKFast and Lawrence Jones made a huge impression on the business in the mid-2000s when Sale were at their most successful. We can now make this one of the biggest rugby franchises in the country and partnering with UKFast gives us the ability to get out there, digitally.
"We’ve regularly been a top six side but now we’re under new ownership and we’re attracting partners like UKFast we are enhancing the whole business, the team, the academy and the match-day experience. Because we’re a leisure business, we’ve got to attract people and we needed a partner with a huge profile to help us deliver.”
UKFast is one of the fastest growing cloud and colocation providers in the UK, managing the online fortunes of some of the country’s biggest brands and supplying the government and public sector digital marketplace through G-Cloud. The firm achieved turnover of £34.3 million in 2015 and is on target for turnover of £40 million this year.