A piece of business that Sir Fred Goodwin got right

Sponsorship of Andy Murray has paid dividends for Royal Bank of Scotland

Peter Jones

“As a nation waits to see whether Andy Murray can advance to the final of Wimbledon and become the first British man to win since Fred Perry, no organisation is watching his progress more eagerly than Royal Bank of Scotland.

Its logo adorns the Murray sweatshirt, the Murray T-shirt, the Murray shorts. For RBS this is not just a showcase event that may restore some of its glory. It is an investment that goes back seven years when Andy and his brother, Jamie, the Wimbledon mixed doubles champion two years ago, were highly promising juniors, desperately short of funds for their training.

RBS spotted the potential. Others got it wrong – Richard Branson’s Virgin company was approached, but turned the offer down.

Murray’s commitment to RBS now is every bit as great as the bank’s is to him. The day after becoming the first British winner at Queen’s Club since Bunny Austin in 1938, instead of nursing a hangover or practising for the finals at Wimbledon, he was at work for the bank at a primary school in southeast London.

The money invested by RBS does not simply give it the valuable privilege of having its name on the sleeves of the brothers’ shirts and gaining massive exposure to millions of television viewers. The players have to work for it too.

Andy and Jamie Murray were at Heavers Primary School, in South Norwood, promoting the RBS Supergrounds scheme, through which the bank has given 800 schools money to help them to improve their playgrounds.

Andy is happy to do the work for the bank, says Judy Murray, his mother and mentor; not only does he find it worthwhile and fun, but also because he knows that without RBS’s financial help when he was a 15-year old prodigy he would never have made it as a senior professional.

Mrs Murray said that the family decided in 2002 that if Andy were to make the step up to the senior ranks he needed to go for coaching in Barcelona at the Sánchez-Casal Academy. The cost was up to £35,000.

“We had been offered some money by the Lawn Tennis Association and by SportScotland but we still needed between £15,000 and £20,000,” she said. “We approached the Royal Bank of Scotland to see if they would be interested in helping Andy.

“They had never sponsored a junior, or a tennis player, or an individual. I think that in the great scheme of things it was a relatively small amount of what they were spending on their sponsorship programme, so they agreed to help us.”

The money went a long way. In junior tennis there was no prize money and yet to reach the standards of professional tennis, a player needs a lot of money to pay air fares and hotel bills for himself and a coach travelling to tournaments for perhaps 35 weeks of the year.

“When you are on the ATP Tour you need to be in the top 150 to 100 players. That’s when you start to bring a little bit of money in, otherwise you are paying out more than you are getting in,” she said.

It was not until 2005, three years after the RBS deal was struck that Andy broke into that winning elite, starting the year ranked at 407th and finishing it with a world ranking of 64.

“Between SportsScotland, the LTA, a bit of help from Tennis Scotland, and a lot of help from RBS, we managed to make it. The backing he got from RBS really gave him the confidence to lift him up to where he is now,” Mrs Murray said.

RBS has had a torrid time, with the media and politicians criticising it for the estimated £200million paid out in annual sports sponsorship when Sir Fred Goodwin was chief executive. Formula One was the biggest beneficiary. Under the new management of Stephen Hester, the Formula One deal was cancelled and the bank’s sponsorship of sport will be halved by 2010. Andy Murray, who was on an estimated £1million a year, has volunteered to take a cut.

He was happy to do it, his mother said. “We have a very strong commitment to RBS because they have been sponsors of Andy and Jamie for a very long time. Now it is pay back time for RBS. For someone like Andy, who is very Scottish, is very patriotic, and who has been supported by a very Scottish bank, he is glad to help and, my goodness, we need a strong Scottish bank. It is a very positive match.” (Peter Jones, The Sunday Times). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6597798.ece

As much as public opinion has turned against bankers, RBS’s breakthrough support for this should be recognised – if we encouraged kids to play sport more we’d have far fewer problems to worry about.  And good on Andy Murray for a) offering a salary cut and b) working so hard to promote sport to kids.

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