NZRU backs off planned All Blacks jersey sale

RICHIE MCCAW: Eyeing clash with Wallabies' opposite number David Pocock.
RICHIE MCCAW: Eyeing clash with Wallabies' opposite number David Pocock.

The New Zealand Rugby Union will back away from controversial plans to "sell" the front of the iconic All Blacks jersey after long-time benefactor adidas involved itself in the discussions.

Neither party will talk about the clash of views but it was serious enough that a senior executive from the German sportswear giant travelled to New Zealand for meetings with union bigwigs, including chief executive Steve Tew.

Inquiries from the Sunday Star-Times seemed to cause anxiety in both camps and official comment was scant.

But it now seems certain the NZRU may have to modify its plans to increase the number of commercial logos on the All Blacks jersey after talking publicly about just such a move last month in a bid to increase the union's stressed financial coffers.

While announcing the "All Blacks" name would be extended to the New Zealand Maori and Sevens nationals teams, Tew and other union officials would not rule out the possibility of a major commercial logo appearing in a dominant way on the front of the All Blacks' strip.

Soon after, reports followed that indicated the NZRU was considering a high-end sponsorship deal with American insurance company AIG, who used to sponsor Manchester United.

AIG's corporate logo could have been emblazoned - as it appears on the United strip - across the middle of the All Blacks jersey for the first time in its century-plus history.

Until now, the NZRU has regarded the All Black jersey as sacrosanct, limiting chief sponsor adidas to a small logo on the right breast of the jersey and balancing the team's trademarked silver fern badge on the left side.

Sunday Star-Times' attempts to speak to Tew about intentions for the jersey were met with a firm rebuttal and a reissuing of a bland statement issued earlier in the month.

“As is normal for our organisation we are discussing opportunities with a number of potential sponsors across a range of categories,” said the NZRU statement.

It continued, spelling out that it was not able to discuss details until agreement had been reached. “Let's be clear, adidas is our principal partner and that contract extends to 2019 and underpins rugby in this county,” said the statement.

The Star-Times understands Adidas were less than impressed by suggestions the All Blacks could be considering introducing another sponsor to the prime front-of-jersey space. Max van den Doel, head of Global Sports Marketing Teamsports and Training, met Tew and other top NZRU officials this month and it is understood the topic was discussed.

But both the NZRU and adidas have stressed their relationship remains strong and free of any tension. Adidas did not want to discuss the issue of the jersey, but a firm message was delivered indicating their dealings with the NZRU remained extremely positive in the wake of last year's World Cup triumph. They also said Van den Doel's visit to NZRU headquarters had been part of his regular rounds of key partners.

It certainly is not in the NZRU's interests to fall offside with a sponsor which has poured as much into their coffers as adidas has in rugby's biggest sponsorship agreement, now said to be worth well in excess of $20 million a year.

Speculation has a potential deal with AIG bringing in another $10 million a year, and it's understood adidas have shown some sympathy towards the NZRU's need to bring in more revenue to run the professional game.

But the industry vibe suggests it would not be happy to see another sponsor receive the prime front-of-jersey real estate that it has been persuaded to give up.

A likely compromise could see AIG's logo appear much more unobtrusively on the shorts and possibly shirtsleeves of the All Black jersey, and perhaps more prominently on other national uniforms such as the sevens.

Any deals need to be in place ahead of the start of the new Rugby Championship on August 18 when the All Blacks meet the Wallabies in Sydney.

Sunday Star Times