With New Zealand Rugby's 10-year deal with AIG ending next year, the All Blacks are set to unveil a surprising new sponsor in the next few weeks. Gregor Paul reports.
The All Blacks are on the verge of completing a sponsorship deal to have UK petrochemical firm Ineos' name on the back of their shorts.
Ineos, which funded Team UK's America's Cup boat this year, are understood to have all but reached terms with New Zealand Rugby in an agreement that is believed to be worth somewhere between $5 million to $8 million a year.
The agreement still needs approval from Adidas, who will remain the apparel sponsor of the All Blacks, with their logo continuing to appear on the jersey and front of shorts.
The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association (NZRPA) also has to approve the deal, that will begin next year when existing sponsor AIG's 10-year commitment to the All Blacks comes to an end.
While Ineos have committed to sponsoring not just the All Blacks, but all of New Zealand's international sides –the Black Ferns, Sevens, under-20s, and Māori – they are not in the running to extend their investment to include the front of the jersey.
When AIG came on board as lead sponsor in 2012, they bought the rights to both the front of the jersey and the back of the shorts.
But after the US insurance group announced in January 2020 that they would not be renewing their agreement when it expired, NZR opted for a major change of strategy.
The national body decided 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.
They also contracted a third party to scour the globe for sponsors and sources say interest has been higher than expected, but many of the companies who began talks with NZR put them on hold during the Covid-19 as they waited to see the wider impact of the pandemic.
The Herald understands that talks with Ineos began earlier this year when chief executive Sir Jim Ratcliffe was in New Zealand to watch the 36th America's Cup.
Notoriously shy and private, Ratcliffe, who founded Ineos and remains a 60 per cent shareholder, has committed an estimated $800m into sports teams and initiatives in the last few years.
Not only has Ineos supported the America's Cup, but they have also bought two major European football clubs, become lead sponsor of the Mercedes Formula One team and bought the Tour de France-winning cycling team formerly known as Team Sky.
Opinion is divided on why Ineos have spent so much so quickly on sport. Ineos says their investments in elite teams are about linking the brand to successful enterprises and having a strong association with excellence.
But environmentalist groups have accused the company of using sports sponsorship to "green wash" and detract from their core business.
Ineos have been criticised in the UK for supporting shale gas extraction via fracking, while some of their key production sites in the UK have received low compliance ratings.
NZR is understood to have spent the last few months digging into Ineos' business plans and motivation for investing in the All Blacks.
A deal is now imminent because Ineos have made a commitment to become carbon zero by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement and because they are also a key manufacturer of components that are vital in sustainable industries and products.
An announcement confirming Ineos' sponsorship is expected in the next few weeks.