If the last ten years have dawned on a defining era, it will be recalled as the growth of the All Blacks brand, and rugby’s Global Capitalization (and the rewards earned).
This period, from 2010 to 2019, has seen a wealth of investment and capitalization from not only the New Zealand union but as much, across the whole of rugby union Tier One nations. Those rewards earned – after the formation of the professional era of 1995 to 2005 – resulted in more income than might have ever been imagined by the IRB (now World Rugby) and NZRFU board members.
Therefore, the ‘All Blacks brand’ became a namesake for the increasing revenue streams which the team generated over the last decade. often referred to by the Chief Executive, while a simplistic view; in terms of corporate accounting, it also demonstrates the global attractiveness of the game which New Zealand played.
They won more, scored more, and defended more strongly, then virtually every other T1 nation. Their world ranking barely shifted from number one and saw the team (and brand) held in high esteem across the International sports market.
So not only was the rugby played over the last decade, some of the most attractive and widely regarded, so too was the earning power, sponsorship growth and in reality, the execution of a global capitalization strategy. One which earned [up to] a Billion dollars worldwide.
The All Blacks brand, and Global Capitalization
Contemplating this period, one must start with the game. The team would not have had such a successful period financially if they had not had success on the field. So even if the corporate strategy was developed, it needed a winning team to capitalize on that potential.
Several points over the decade can be highlighted. None though, bear as much significance of the first 24 months of this era.
2011 Rugby World Cup
Awarded the hosting rights back in 2005, the opening years of the new decade required immediate success. And the Graham Henry coached team delivered. In 2010, they won their 10th Tri-Nations title, it was followed by two successful Bledisloe Cup defences – however, it also saw ‘global expansion’ include a Test match in Hong Kong.
That saw Australia tip up the All Blacks 24-26, and was possibly seen by their opposition as fallibility. Yet, with a victorious Grand Slam tour of the UK, the preparations for 2011 were close to being perfectly executed – and thus, the popularity of the All Blacks brand in Europe was reinforced.
New Zealand prepared the infrastructure, and even when the Christchurch earthquakes removed Lancaster Park as a facility, the union reacted by extending matches into the regions. That focus on a ‘national tournament’ was enjoyed by all who attended. Helped by the side’s performances in pool play and in the playoffs, before a nerve-shattering 8-7 victory over France, that saw the team raise the trophy on home soil.
On the field, it was cathartic for the all blacks and for the nation.
Removing a stigma seen externally, of failing to win at a Rugby World Cup since 1987, the win revitalized the legacy of the team and grew confidence from within the nation’s psyche. Securing a second Webb Ellis Cup saw them equal the Springboks and Australia sides record, to affirm their International status. An emotional step forward, in terms of the player’s mental strength; as much as the team’s financial footstep.
AIG and International sponsorship expansion
Attractive, and open to new sponsorship agreements, the decision in 2012 to create a relationship with AIG, was a significant moment for the All Blacks brand.
The announcement had two major connotations. One is the value; $15 million per year. That original four-year contract has since been renewed and is only second in value with the Adidas jersey manufacturers sponsorship agreement.
Secondly, it added a graphic onto the famed All Black jersey that was once seen as a national symbol….and therefore upsetting fans across the globe.
Why? For some, it was the alien business name. Not a New Zealand one, which is possibly one aspect that local fans may have better embraced. And it put a blemish on what many saw as a pristine uniform. One which they had to adjust to having an Adidas logo on it, now a larger AIG brand was seen as ‘spoiling the look’.
Yet, in terms of securing the financial ability of NZ Rugby to afford the increased wages for world-class players, it was crucial. In similar terms to major sports brands like Manchester United or the Dallas Cowboys, these agreements brought the All Blacks brand onto a higher plane and sealed players staying in New Zealand.
Emotions put to one side, the commercial relationships continued with a procession of new International sponsors. IVECO would develop a European partnership, Investec began a regional sponsorship partnership with the Super Rugby competition, and others including the American Express and Gatorade brands would be added over the decade.
Licensed products were also a revenue stream, with calendars and all manner of products endorsing the brand. A profitable industry both locally, and offshore [and more today, online sales].
2017 British and Irish Lions tour
A peak of the last decade was the highly anticipated 2017 British and Irish Lions tour. Still holding a significance which is near to being on par with a World Cup, the once-in-every-12-years tour was highly anticipated.
Warren Gatland would return as the Lions manager, and it was his nationality that added to the ‘Us versus Them’ mentality. Gatland was Wales’ head coach but took a 12-month sabbatical, to focus solely on the task. He looked to plan for all contingencies, and the New Zealand rugby public hoped that the confidence of the successful 2005 Lions tour, would continue the All Blacks proud home record.
In terms of corporate strategies, NZ Rugby was engaging an International audience. DHL was brought in a lead sponsor, with local companies supporting tour as an event of national importance. Inviting the world’s media downunder, the All Blacks brand was again marketed on an International scale.
In the end, the honours were shared in a drawn Series. One win each, with the victory over New Zealand in Wellington being only the third loss by the All Blacks that decade. Still seen as the pinnacle of the game, a Lions tour was both popular with viewers around the world but reinforced the two brands. It will make the 2029 planned tour one could set a new benchmark in earnings.
The $40 financial windfall from the 2017 Lions 10-match tour was the driving force behind a re-investment in the national game. According to a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report the Series directly contributed $245 million to the country’s GDP.
All Blacks brand results in economic rewards
Not only is the All Blacks brand externally attractive, but the local economy relies on the team. When Nelson hosted The Rugby Championship test against Argentina, investment into the Trafalgar Park stadium was returned threefold, by local and international visitors.
The game had directed created its own economical rewards.
This is a trend felt across the sports world. The bigger the brand, the bigger the financial impact (and rewards). New Zealand now more often hosts games at away venues from home; they played Australia in Japan in 2017.
It means when new markets and regions are explored, the direct benefits are in the host country, and by related merchandise and key relationships. When the All Blacks return each year to Buenos Aires, the direct flights from Auckland ensure fans can enjoy the rugby, as well as more easily visiting away fixtures.
All Blacks Tours is no longer a wish, it is an affordable option. Travel packages do not directly reward the union financially, but by association, help to ensure a local contingent of AB fans are present – and they only add to the offshore fanbase. In Chicago, Tokyo, Samoa or South Africa, many fans from those countries wear their All Blacks brand proudly.
The final conclusion is that this last decade has been beneficial for the team. Ranked number one for so much of it, only in the last year have they lost some ground to others on the playing field. Yet by comparison on an economic level, New Zealand and England are the clear leaders. And England Rugby has enjoyed similar advancements in commercial rewards over the last ten years.
The future looks bright too. An incoming CEO will hope to carry on the strong corporate model driven by Steve Tew. He may want to put a more human face to that model, one that can build on the rewards earned from 2010 to 2019, as well as fan loyalty.
And the jersey will be a strong image of that glocal capitalization. Of brand awareness, right around the world. That in itself is the most visible image of the All Blacks brand growth over the last decade.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images