Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Business plan pays off

The rebranding of the sevens and Maori teams has proved a financial success. Photo / Getty Images
The rebranding of the sevens and Maori teams has proved a financial success. Photo / Getty Images

After more than a decade of trying, the All Blacks may finally be earning the sort of revenue they feel their brand deserves.

Commercial satisfaction has been hard for the All Blacks to find in the past: they are rugby's only team with global standing and world renown and yet, for all that, they have struggled to make ends meet in the professional age.

All that brand awareness has not previously been converted into hard dollars. In the past four years, the NZRU have lost in excess of $20 million and been in full cost-cutting mode.

But this year is proving that the financial landscape is changing - that the All Blacks are now a bigger money machine than England and France and that the hard times of old may be a thing of the past.

When the All Blacks play England at Twickenham in two weeks, the combined sponsorship values on their jersey will be worth an estimated four times the value of England's respective deals with Canterbury and O2. The All Blacks will also take a match fee believed to be in excess of $3.5 million - more than double the fee they were able to command for playing at the same ground seven years ago.

In Rome, management and players were wined and dined by representatives of the Bvlgaria dynasty - the multi-billion luxury goods conglomerate that has a "partnership" with the All Blacks. That deal is in its infancy, not worth any cash yet, but is expected to lead to significant opportunities with other high-end companies.

There are two key drivers behind the breakthrough. The first is the decision taken by the New Zealand Rugby Union earlier this year to rebrand the sevens and Maori teams and allow them to use the All Blacks' suffix. It was a basic marketing ploy to entice global sponsors - they could then feel they were better getting bang for their buck by "buying into the All Black" family.

The second factor is that the All Blacks are now world champions. That makes all the difference. The incredible legacy and winning ratio only goes so far: it has got the All Blacks close to big deals in the past, but they know there is a huge difference between going close and signing a contract.

"I'd like to think that the All Black story is strong enough to sell itself without being the world champions," says NZRU chief executive Steve Tew. "It has previously done so but there is no doubt that the state we are in, with a team that plays as well as it does, and has the World Cup behind us ... that's now open slather."

The ultimate proof of the All Blacks' new clout came last month when they signed a deal worth an estimated $15 million a season with US insurance giant AIG to sponsor a range of national teams. While the focus of the deal fell on the appearance of their logo on the All Black playing jersey, the true value of it is yet to be fully felt.

Next year, it's likely the NZRU will be able to again afford to send the Maori and women's sides to tour somewhere at the end of the year, while continuing to fund the sevens and under-20 programmes. The significance is that New Zealand has international development teams critical for preparing the next tier of players for test rugby.

The AIG money also means the All Blacks can take some respite from their schedule. Since 2008, the All Blacks have looked to play extra games in November - games played outside the test window so they can negotiate a fee. That's unlikely to happen next year or for the immediate future.

"We have a couple of other teams that we think are worth taking to new markets - the Maori All Blacks and Sevens All Blacks are naturally going to go to new markets because the IRB World Sevens is taking them there," says Tew. "But there is not too much spare time in the calendar for any more games for the All Blacks, so arguably we might be able to address the number of games in the other direction.

"We have to sit down and work out what this injection of revenue means for the game and be careful about the investment. But right now we are not envisioning playing any extra games on the end of year tour unless the All Black coaches want them."

- Herald on Sunday

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