18 April 2011

It was not an easy decision. There has to be a degree of emotion attached to a sponsorship deal and if it was left to pure passion and there were no financial penalties to staying, I am sure I’d do everything in my power to do so. That’s certainly how we felt at the end of last season.

Each season, we review the effectiveness of the relationship and the benefits of a symbiotic relationship with a sports club. There are a great many things to consider: performance on the field, management, community contribution, hospitality, the list is endless. In spite of a poor 09/10 season and some drastic management restructuring we decided it was the right thing to remain with the club regardless of potentially difficult times ahead.

But a year on, with all the changes at UKFast and the recent changes to the Sharks squad and management, it feels like the right time to hand over the mantle of “Proud Main Sponsor” to another lucky business owner and their team.

When we first got involved, Hodgson was an unknown, a little like us. I have watched him grow and develop into an awesome player, husband and dad, and it has been an honour to be his personal sponsor and friend. It’s incredible to see my colleagues at UKFast develop in a similar way too. And along the journey, teams change. I have lost people from time to time. It’s upsetting but sometimes people just need a change of scene.

I do think Charlie’s leaving will be a big loss to the Sharks though. He is one of the most underrated players in the Premiership. People naturally remember his early Twickenham and England appearances and remember a very young man who missed a number of kicks. What people weren’t aware of was that the England kicking coach, an ex-school master of Johnny Wilkinson, insisted he changed his run up and stance, in spite of Charlie’s superior kicking stats in the premiership.

It took Charlie a few seasons to build the confidence to say “No!” but sadly the damage was done.

He has been an amazing ambassador for the Sharks. He is a very calm and well-respected player, both on and off the field, and even with all the difficulties with the appointment of Mike Brewer, Charlie went about his business and kept the players united.

There is no doubt the change in management style that came with Brewer’s appointment changed the dynamic of the club. When I heard Charlie was heading to pastures new, I was reminded that nothing lasts forever, especially where sport is concerned.

We originally got involved with the Sharks as a Technology Partner, building their site and helping them with their marketing.

Back then, the team played at Heywood Road where a few thousand fans stood in the Birtles.  I have lost count of the number of CEOs and senior managements who have come and gone since then. But the club grew from strength to strength.

We’ve been on the sidelines cheering them through their toughest times and through some tremendous times. I can count the number of games I have missed in a decade on one hand. My daughter’s first game was at 10 days old!

The memories I have will last forever and I do not regret one minute or one penny I invested in the club. And Jason Robinson’s last game – what an occasion! In the dying minutes, Jason turned on his magic and turned a losing score line into a victory in one of the greatest displays of British rugby I have ever witnessed.

Stood in the Birtles 12 years ago, Gail and I set a goal: “One day we’ll be the main sponsor.” It was a pipe dream back in the early days.

So, a few years ago when the Sharks lost their main sponsor, McAfee, I was eager to throw my hat into the ring. We had grown enormously at this point and in a very proud moment we signed a seven figure contract. In fact, achieving this goal was one of the highlights of my time as a businessman. And in spite of the looming recession back then, I still believe it was the right thing to do.

And now as the clouds lift on the recession, UKFast is blossoming and I have a lot to thank the Sharks and their fans for. We have grown 43% on the previous year and although this is marvellous news, it leaves us needing huge amounts of cash to develop more data centre space.

We have spent millions in the past 2 years building our first and I believe Manchester’s greenest data centre. It is due to open in June 2011, literally weeks away. It is large enough to house more than 12,000 servers. However, in the last 2 years we have grown so much and it has become clear that we now need 5 times the space imminently. The latest plan is to build 100,000sq ft. This requires every available penny and more!

And so, in spite of the most perfect symbiotic relationship any business has ever had with a sports club, sadly the decision is made for us. It’s game over.

For a Manchester business wanting to align themselves with Manchester’s premiership business owners and colleagues, there is no better organisation in Manchester to support in my opinion because, pound for pound, the value you get from rugby sponsorship far outweighs any other sport.

I wish Brian Kennedy and his team, the new CEO and all the supporters success for the season ahead. You never know, as our business continues to grow, we may be back!

In the meantime, I’ll see you on the sidelines, like the old days.


Jonathan Bowers
07720 222 227





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