Half a year after Philips announced it was pulling its support for our national team, a replacement has yet to be signed.
One of Philips’ rivals tells NBR the Rugby Union is still shopping the sponsorship around but finding no takers.
A well-placed insider at one of Philips’ consumer electronics rivals says his company was approached to fill the national team’s sponsor void. But with the recession, it simply did not have the necessary funds on hand: “They [The Rugby Union] are asking everyone but nobody’s interested.”
On September 17 last year, NBR broke the story that Philips was pulling its 15-year-old All Blacks sponsorship, effective from January 31 this year. The move came on the back of Philips’ decision to no longer sell its TVs in New Zealand.
Philips sponsored the New Zealand leg of the Tri-nations and was also the All Blacks consumer electronics sponsor in all contexts.
The day after Philips’ September 17 pull-out, Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Andrew Stone told NBR that if no new sponsor stepped up within a month, it could be a sign the national team is losing its commercial pull. With declining ratings and poor ticket sales “rugby is under pressure to prove it’s still relevant,” Mr Stone said.
The same day, Rugby Union’s commercial manager Paul Dalton told NBR he would like to stitch up a replacement sponsor for Philips by January.
But January has come and gone, with the first All Blacks test (against France) due to kick off June 14, and the first Super 14 game July 18, there is no sign of a deal. On the All Blacks’ official website, there is still only signage for the team’s headline sponsor, Adidas.
In fact, if anything, the Rugby Union is going backwards. In December, Ford announced it was putting its All Blacks and Super 14 sponsorship under review.
A provision in the deal that sees every All Black and Super 14 player supplied with a Ford vehicle is now only guaranteed until the end of this year, before which time the troubled car maker will decide whether to continue its sponsorship into 2010.
The Rugby Union did not immediately return calls.
The global meltdown has been as tough on sports sponsorship as any other area. Sony has not renewed its deal with the Wellington Phoenix in Australasian soccer’s A-league. Samsung has withdrawn its support for the Melbourne Victory in the same competition. Honda has withdrawn from Formula One. Vodafone pulled stumps on a 12-year relationship with the English cricket team just ahead of Christmas, while global 20Twenty cricket’s global sugar daddy, Stanford, has imploded.
The current economic environment doesn't help Mr Stone said: “People aren’t making long term bets at the moment.”
He added that a sponsorship typically costs two to three times its up-front cost once costs such as hospitality and the sponsor’s own associated promotional costs are factored in.
In such an environment, the Saatchi boss advises the NZRU to look outside the obvious men’s categories of cars and beers, perhaps to an energy company.
“It can be done,” he said. “New Zealanders are still passionate about rugby.”
But even if a deal is done, the meltdown could still have an impact, Mr Stone says.
“Historically, the value of this level of sponsorship has increased with every renewal,” Mr Stone says. But he’s not sure if more money will go into the pot this time.