With the Dubai Rugby Sevens just around the corner, we are excited to have former Rugby Union player Steve Thompson MBE in the Sun & Sand Sports studio as he talks us through his involvement in the UAE rugby scene and his role as ambassador for BLK sportswear. As a member of the UAE Rugby Advisory Committee, Steve is at the heart of what it means to play the sport in the UAE and to see it develop in the local community.
Soon to be stocking BLK sportswear at Sun & Sand Sports, we want to hear more about the brand, what makes it unique and what it’s like to be the brand ambassador bringing this kit to the UAE market. Also providing a co-sponsored BLK – Sun & Sand Sports kit to the Jumeirah College team for the upcoming Rugby Sevens, we are keen to see what the potential growth for rugby will be at a junior level – for the aspiring, rising stars who want to take the sport to the next level. See what Steve Thompson MBE has to say about BLK, the collaboration with Sun & Sand Sports, and the local rugby community in our exclusive interview.
SSS: If you can first tell us a bit about your involvement with the BLK brand?
Steve Thompson: Well I started off as an ambassador a couple of years ago; they were quite big in the Australian and New Zealand markets and then they were looking at getting into Europe and obviously here in the Middle East so I got involved and tried to help along with getting the brand into the schools and into rugby clubs here and it’s gone quite well – quite early doors as they say.
SSS: And what is it that attracted you initially to the brand?
Steve Thompson: I think it was just fresh, it was new. As you know, you’ve got the big brands out there as well but I think this sits just underneath that at the moment. It’s just the way that they’re really pushing the team sports: netball, rugby league, rugby union and cricket. I just like the way they really targeted the team sports.
SSS: In your view, what is it that makes BLK unique in what’s already a highly competitive market?
Steve Thompson: They’re always trying to be on the cutting edge with bespoken stuff, so if you’ve got teams or schools, they really like to go out there and go bespoke. You can go out there and design your own kit and that’s what they’re looking for; the schools and the sport teams out there that want something a little bit different.
SSS: Being such a big name in the world of rugby, how is it that you hope to expand BLK into the region not just in rugby, but amongst the other sports BLK has begun to branch into?
Steve Thompson: Obviously in the UAE cricket’s starting to get big so obviously we’re going to try and target that. Netball we’ve got a strong influence in now and we’re trying to push our way in there. BLK’s supplying the kit to the UK teams, New Zealand and Australia. Rugby union – they’re getting quite big in Australia now and also in the rugby league they’re huge.
SSS: So in your view, how has BLK grown so quickly from a brand that few of us have heard about before, to one of the world renowned brands it is today?
Steve Thompson: I think it’s just the way they’ve targeted, like I said earlier, the team sports. That’s the best way to get out there. New Zealand and Australia rugby league is going well and the netball now so that’s what we’re also trying to go for to, both the males and the females and that’s the biggest thing to try and grow a kit like that. They’ve gone for the big team games like I said netball and rugby which is huge here. The UK, obviously netball’s big there and then they’re going into the rugby union in Europe as well with Toulouse.
SSS: What are the brands intentions for the Middle Eastern market?
Steve Thompson: I think we’re going to really target the netball and the rugby, but schools too. I just see these days when you go in there, the standard of school kit, considering a lot of the schools here are private and it’s hot and that’s the thing out here, you go out there and the kits are just terrible, they don’t fit the children very well, they’re not bespoke and I think when you’re running around in kit all day in hot weather, I think they deserve the best kit for a kid.
SSS: Absolutely. And what about the brand’s intentions on an international level?
Steve Thompson: I think it’s just to keep growing, not to just hit it too quickly where you grow too quickly, which has happened to brands in the past. I think they’re just growing naturally really, and the natural progression is to go into the UK; they’re in Ireland already. For me when I look at it and think, it’s slow but gradual. They’re in the American market as well with the Sevens and with the first professional league going over there as well, and everybody knows that that can be a huge market.
SSS: BLK has gone on to sign official supply deals with quite a few big teams, mainly around Australasia, but not limited to. Does BLK have any intentions of offering the same deals to some of the local GCC teams?
Steve Thompson: Yeah, we’ve had talks with a lot of the rugby teams over here which didn’t go as well as we’d hoped but the relationship is always there for us. We’re looking at going forwards with the local club teams, like the Jebel Ali Dragons and the Sharks. It’s gradual. We’ve just entered South Africa as well, and like I said before, we’re in Ireland, we’re in France, we’re going into England, so for me it’s exciting times. BLK is starting to get into cycling now, starting to get into a bit of athletics. They know where their strengths are you know; they don’t do trainers as that’s not their strength. Their strength is the kit and they spend a lot of money on the materials they use and looking for the next generation of kit.
SSS: So with BLK and Sun & Sand Sports’ joint sponsorship of Jumeirah College for this year’s Dubai Rugby Sevens, what impact do you think it will have on the sport at a more junior level?
Steve Thompson: We have Jumeirah College and RAK Academy as well going forwards which has been a big one for us as it’s three schools in one. For us, I just want to make sure the kids have good kit, they go out there and they enjoy it. There’s nothing worse running around the Sevens, I’ve done it before – in heavy, horrible kit. I think it gets the name out there and to be with Sun & Sand Sports, it’s two great brands and hopefully we can link together and really move forwards.
SSS: Definitely. The community that surrounds rugby is very much a social one; how do you see that being integrated here into local communities?
Steve Thompson: I played football as a child and I don’t have any friends from that time, but rugby is just such a community game. Even with touch rugby, you can get fathers, mums, sisters, everyone just playing touch rugby together and that’s such a big community here with the touch rugby within the Middle East. Rugby’s going into the schools and I think it’s just such a good, respectful sort of game and that’s what I like about rugby and that’s why I’ve stayed such a big part of it and why I’m on the advisory committee here in the UAE to hopefully grow it and pull it into the local areas for the Emiratis as well.
SSS: That actually leads me onto my next question which is your involvement within the Advisory Committee and how that’s going, where it’s going and where you see it in the next few years?
Steve Thompson: It’s going really well. You look at the numbers and they’re really growing for those who are taking part. And it’s not just boys, it’s girls as well and that’s the big main aim for the UAE, to get more and more Emiratis into it. We know that over here they do have health problems and I just see rugby as a great game for them. It doesn’t have to be a complete contact sport; it can be touch rugby and like you said, it’s a social sport as well which everyone enjoys, and all shapes and sizes are welcome and that’s the good thing about rugby.
SSS: And finally, we have the Rugby Sevens coming up this weekend; who can we expect to see and which teams will be wearing the BLK kit?
Steve Thompson: Well we’ve got the champions Fiji and America who are obviously going to be the dark horses I think. They’re just growing as a power in rugby all the time and Samoa too. For me, we’ve got some great teams out there that are wearing the kit and for me, Fiji are the ones – they’re the champions and they’re always the entertainers so we’re very proud to have them on board with BLK.
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