After months of speculation and interest from at least two other global corporations for the jersey sponsorship of the All Blacks, a surprise late bidder has landed the naming rights to rugby's most coveted real estate. And it did not come cheap, as Gregor Paul reports.
The All Blacks have agreed to put the name Altrad on the front of their jerseys from 2022, a deal that will push their total kit sponsorship to over $50 million a year.
The French building supplies company which also sponsors the French national team and owns Montpellier Herault Rugby Club has seen off competition from major Japanese corporations as well as Amazon to secure the naming rights to rugby's most coveted real estate.
Altrad will replace AIG as the All Blacks' front of jersey sponsor once the existing deal with the US insurance group expires at the end of this year.
As revealed by the Herald in June, UK-based petrochemical company Ineos have agreed a separate deal to put their name on the back of the All Blacks' shorts from next year and the combined value of those two agreements is understood to be more than $50m a year.
This makes the All Blacks playing kit the most valuable uniform in world rugby.
It is believed that the agreement with Altrad is the most expensive jersey sponsorship in rugby history, worth about 50 per cent more than England's recently renewed agreement with telecommunications company O2.
The Herald understands that NZR engaged in discussion with Altrad – which was founded by the French-Syrian entrepreneur Mohed Altrad – for the first time earlier this year.
NZR then engaged with Amazon and a major Japanese firm. The Herald reported that the former were eager to strike a meaningful alliance with the All Blacks as part of a wider strategic plan to build both a major presence in New Zealand and also a global association with rugby.
Discussions reached an advanced stage and Amazon were considering making a $20m-a-year investment to put the name Climate Pledge on the All Blacks jersey.
Climate Pledge is a pact that was announced by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019 and is aimed at making signatories – major corporations such as Unilever, Microsoft and Mercedez-Benz are on board - accountable to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early.
But the US firm lessened its commitment to New Zealand earlier this month when it announced it will transfer the filming of the billion-dollar Lord of the Rings TV adaptation to the UK.
It is also understood there were concerns about putting the Climate Pledge name so close to Ineos – a firm which has incurred the wrath of several environmental groups, most notably Greenpeace, who have been critical of NZR for agreeing to a deal with a company that is tied up in fossil fuels and has been fingered as a heavy polluter of the world's oceans.
Once Amazon pulled out, NZR is thought to have attracted a bid from a Japanese firm, which proved to be enough to force a change of mind from Altrad who responded with an improved offer and are expected to be announced as the new front of jersey sponsor in the near future.
The ability to drive a better sponsorship deal for the All Blacks through these Covid-ravaged times is illustrative of the pulling power of the brand which continues to intrigue and inspire global audiences.
It is also a major tick to the change of strategy which saw NZR opt to sell the rights to the front of the jersey, back of the shorts, and training jerseys separately instead of to one buyer as they did with AIG.
The national body also used a third party to scour the globe for sponsors and the benefits of that can be seen in their financial forecasts, which state that they expect total income to jump from $206m this year to $238m next when the new deals kick-in.