The New Zealand Rugby Union has made a daring decision to place a commercial logo across the front of the once sacred All Blacks jersey.
In a move bound to antagonise rugby traditionalists, the NZRU today in Auckland revealed that the All Blacks jerseys and shorts will have the three letters of new sponsor AIG on the front for the next five years, starting from next week's Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane.
It was originally anticipated that AIG would only appear on the jersey sleeves rather than the middle of the jersey below the smaller All Blacks and adidas logos. Previously, it has been reported that adidas was against AIG appearing in such a dominant position.
But it seems money talks and the new five-and-a-half year sponsorship deal with the US-based insurance company - which also takes in the Maori All Blacks, All Blacks Sevens, Black Ferns, Women's Sevens and Under-20 national teams - was confirmed at a press conference in Auckland this afternoon.
Union officials were putting on a happy face in trying to sell the move to the media and public.
"This is a great day for New Zealand rugby," said NZRU chief executive Steve Tew. "This is an exciting new partnership that will further secure the future of rugby at all levels in this country and pave the way for our game to reach new fans around the world.
"Today's announcement is a game changer for New Zealand rugby."
"New Zealand rugby was already benefitting from the most valuable sponsorship in the rugby world through its partnership with adidas. To the best of our knowledge, the partnership with AIG is the second most valuable rugby sponsorship.
"We sincerely thank adidas for helping to ensure we were able to develop this valuable new partnership. adidas remains the principal partner of the NZRU whose support has underpinned rugby in this country since 1999 and will continue to at least 2019."
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said the new sponsorship arrangement had his support.
"It's really flattering that a company this big has chosen New Zealand rugby to be its cornerstone sponsorship. It shows incredible respect for our traditions, heritage and record of success across all our teams.
"This will really help make our game stronger right from the community game to the All Blacks so this is great news for rugby."
The AIG logo on the All Blacks jersey is just under one third the size of the maximum allowed under International Rugby Board guidelines.
"This is not a decision we have taken lightly. Like all New Zealanders we greatly respect the rich and proud heritage of the black jersey, which is why NZRU consulted with senior players and others as we carefully weighed up this latest move," Tew said.
"On balance it is a very positive opportunity to secure the additional funds that we need to help safeguard the future of the game in this country."
AIG, best known in sporting circles and main shirt sponsors of football club Manchester United from 2006-2010, will replace truck maker Iveco as one of the All Blacks' main sponsors.
"Prominently associating the AIG brand with the All Blacks and the highly competitive and successful New Zealand Rugby Union teams, as well as passionate rugby fans around the world, represents a tremendous opportunity for AIG, the NZRU, and rugby," Bob Benmosche, AIG president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
No financial details of the sponsorship were disclosed.
A recent Forbes list ranked AIG the 29th-largest public company in the world, though in 2008, it received controversial bailout help from the US Government. It subsequently changed its name to Chartis, but has reverted to AIG this year.
- Fairfax Media
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