Silence over ABs jersey sponsor

A new look might decorate the All Blacks' jerseys if rumours are true. Photo / NZPA
A new look might decorate the All Blacks' jerseys if rumours are true. Photo / NZPA

More than 100 years of tradition could be nearing an end but the New Zealand Rugby Union are refusing to confirm or deny a report that a sponsor's logo could be emblazoned on the famous black jersey.

It was reported today that a controversial American insurance company is in negotiations with the NZRU to place their logo on the front of the playing strip, which has been free of advertising since the All Blacks began playing in the late 1880s.

The All Blacks are one of the few international rugby teams without a large front-of-jersey sponsor.

The NZRU refused to comment on the issue when asked via phone call and formal email request earlier in the week, but their stance softened a little after Jed Thian, who runs the Alternative Rugby Commentary website, spoke about an impending sponsorship deal with the American International Group (AIG) on Radio New Zealand yesterday.

However, the NZRU limited their response last night to a brief statement from chief executive Steve Tew, which read: "As is normal for our organisation, we are discussing opportunities with a number of potential sponsors across a range of categories. Like any commercial organisation we are not able to discuss any of those details until both parties have reached agreement. But let's be clear adidas is our principal partner and that contract extends to 2019 and underpins rugby in this country."

It is understood AIG have signed a five-year deal which includes logos on the All Blacks' shorts and shirt sleeves.

When pressed on a potential jersey deal with AIG, a spokesman said no further comment would be available.

The All Blacks jersey has been considered sacrosanct but Tew has been careful to not rule out selling space to an advertiser.

It would be hugely controversial if the NZRU decided to take up AIG's offer, and not only because it would break more than a century of tradition.

AIG was a sponsor of Premier League football club Manchester United and appeared on the team's shirts from 2006 to 2010 in a deal worth more than $100 million. However, the company was a victim of the global financial crisis and had to be bailed out four times by the United States government. It meant, effectively, that the US were United's main sponsor during the 2009-2010 season.

According to the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph, that coincided with a warning from the company's security team to US-based employees to "avoid wearing any AIG apparel with the company insignia" as a result of growing hostility towards the company following revelations of bonuses paid to executives from bailout funds.

Such was the hatred towards the company from American taxpayers, it decided to change its name to Chartis, and only changed it back last week as public sentiment softened.

According to Reuters, chief Bob Benmosche told staff in a memo last week: "The increasingly positive sentiment toward AIG is a powerful asset."

The All Blacks have had a shirt sponsor in the past, with Steinlager emblazoned on the right side of the jersey during the mid-90s.

Currently, adidas have a small logo on the right breast, opposite the silver fern on the left.

Additional reporting: New Zealand Herald

- APNZ

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