All Blacks brand has never been stronger
Call it the Black Brand of Excellence or whatever you like but major global sponsors are gravitating toward the New Zealand Rugby Union's door in the wake of its landmark deal with AIG.
Wearing the world champions tag and with an unbeaten record this year ahead of this morning's European tour finale against England, the All Blacks brand has never been in a stronger position.
In fact, the All Blacks' recently announced deal with AIG pumped it up to the $50 million mark in team sponsorship globally and from within New Zealand.
And though NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said the next major international sponsor wasn't imminent, he confirmed discussions had taken place with several major multi-nationals during the past month.
"There are now companies global with their footprint who are seeing rugby as an appropriate marketing and sponsorship activity and we are one of the strongest brands in the rugby world," Tew said. "It's only natural we'd be having discussions with some of those brands."
In fact, Tew and his new commercial director Mark Adam have been busy in Europe this past month nurturing relationships with global heavyweights from Louis Vuitton to Land Rover.
Such meetings are evidence of the doors opening around the world.
Anyone doubting the marketability of the All Blacks in Europe only needed buy the London Daily Telegraph's Friday edition, one which had an unprecedented full-page, black AIG wrap-around section promoting this morning's test at Twickenham.
"At this moment we are in very good shape, there's no doubt about it," Tew said. "The world champion tag is a help. We had a strong commercial portfolio before the World Cup, but the opportunities are now considerably higher."
Tew is categorical about two things. No other company logos will be joining AIG on the All Blacks jersey, and sponsors within New Zealand remain a priority.
"I don't think you will ever get to the point where you see all of our sponsorships being international or global," he said.
"There is always going to be the need to have a strong portfolio of local commercial partners to keep the game in touch with who we really are. In the end that's our most important clientele. But, we need to ensure there is enough scale to remain competitive. The best way for us to do that is to look at options outside New Zealand."
The Sunday Star Times understands the IRB has been pushing for its member unions to have closer ties with its global sponsors Heineken, Land Rover and French banking giants Societe Generale.
The NZRU cannot talk sponsorship with Heineken as it would clash with existing New Zealand brewery deals, Societe Generale competes with AIG, and Land Rover wouldn't be viable in New Zealand where Ford is a major player in rugby.
But an exclusively offshore deal may not be completely off the table. It is understood Land Rover, who have a separate relationship with star turn Dan Carter, have previously been keen to talk to the NZRU.
"We are happy to chat because you never know. Maybe a contract runs out in two years' time and something might come of it, you just never know," Tew said.
The same applied to meetings with Louis Vuitton representatives in Rome where Tew also lunched with Nicola Bulgari.
"We are talking inside and outside of New Zealand to about 15 or 20 companies right now. We are keeping our networks live and building them because even if you are with someone now you don't know what the future holds.
"Who would have picked a luxury watch maker [Bulgari] would want to sign a licensing arrangement with the All Blacks."
Sunday Star Times