Rugby: Welcome sponsorship as Emirates come on board

By Paul Lewis

Perhaps the most significant thing about Emirates' sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup is not that it is the fastest such backing of a world cup.

It is that Emirates have taken such a pre-eminent position in New Zealand sport and sport globally.

In a sponsorship worth a sum only referred to as "millions", Emirates have become a Worldwide Partner of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. That is a step up from the next tier down - sponsorship - which Emirates undertook for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

They have similar commitments to football's World Cup from 2008-2014; to all major ICC cricket events and they back the world's richest horse race, the US$6m Dubai World Cup.

They are also sponsor of Team New Zealand's America's Cup campaigns - a partnership that has forged strong links and which is expected to continue in the future.

While Emirates' involvement is a considerable coup for the 2011 World Cup and will garner interest from other candidates, there is a long way to go.

In France, the Worldwide Partners numbered Visa, Peugeot, SNCF (French railways), financial services company Societe Generale, GMF and Electricite de France. Sponsors were Heineken, Emirates, Vediorbis, Capgemini, Orange and Toshiba.

That's a lot of money and partners to find during a global downturn and when the host is a small country at the end of the world.

But Martin Snedden, Chief Executive of Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd, said sponsor interest was governed more by the phenomenal TV coverage than by any geographic concerns.

Rugby NZ 2011 is not responsible for gathering sponsors - that is the IRB's baby - but Snedden says the ability of sponsors to take advantage of the "enormous" TV reach and then to promote their company through a wide variety of methods will be a drawcard.

Emirates, for instance, would cover their planes in World Cup insignia amid many other promotions, he said. He felt the World Cup attraction would still apply to sponsors and he knew the IRB were close to more announcements.

The other significant factor of the Emirates sponsorship is that it does not shut down involvement by Air New Zealand.

Such commercial rivalries can become acute at World Cup times. Direct opponents, like Visa and Mastercard, can try ambush marketing techniques when the other is sponsoring a major sporting event and vexed issues can crop up - like the 2003 'clean stadiums' issue which gifted Australia sole care of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

But the Emirates deal, while preventing any kind of commercial tie-up between the Rugby World Cup and Air New Zealand, takes into account the local carrier will still be vital in ferrying fans and players.

It's a sensible, 'grown-up' attitude and shows Emirates not only sees financial value in sponsoring major sporting events but also understands those events and their market.

- Herald on Sunday

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