Vodafone new sponsor for All Blacks and NZ Rugby

Vodafone signs a four-year deal with NZ Rugby to enhance fans' smartphone experience in stadium.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has signed a new sponsorship agreement with communications giant Vodafone.

The four-year partnership will see Vodafone work with NZR on a new All Blacks app, with more features and viewing options including "world-class digital experiences” for rugby fans inside and outside the stadium.

Previously NZR had a telecommunications partnership with rival telco Spark but chief executive Steve Tew says that ended two to three years ago.

The partnership will come into effect for the upcoming DHL New Zealand Lions Series in New Zealand next month, with the new app set up to allow fans to replay tries, view highlights and watch alternative live footage from many different camera angles.

"Local rugby fans will have access to in-stadium technology that is at the forefront of what is available around the world to watch the game,” Mr Tew says.

Commercial details of the sums involved in the sponsorship are being kept confidential and Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners says the deal took a long time to negotiate. It does involve a cash component as well as technological expertise.

 Last year the NRU made a reported $55 million from sponsorship and licensing and for the first time made more from broadcast rights – some $73 million.

Mr Tew says the amount of income from sponsorship will rise this year due to the British Lions tour starting next month but broadcasting rights have become the main income earner.

Mr Stanners says the technology in the All Blacks app will add a new dimension to the game-viewing experience.

“If you look at our customers there are two things we know they do – they love to use their smartphones and to communicate and connect. When it comes to a big sporting event like rugby we often say they’re smartphone conventions and watching the rugby, so what this does is bring together those two factors and those customers that download the app can get a much better customer experience.”

He says they looked at what sporting organisations were doing offshore, particularly in the US where they have big stadiums and big crowds. They’ve partnered with a US company to bring back the smartphone capability and with Sky and NZ Rugby to provide the new mobile technology to fans.

“It was only five years ago smartphones came into their own and now nearly every customer in New Zealand has one. That has created a platform and we thought 'why don’t we create the fan experience of the future and that’s what we are doing.'”

When asked how it affects Sky’s exclusive broadcasting rights for rugby, Mr Stanners says it is a key partner and supporter of the new technology.

Vodafone is also connecting fans at fanzones in Wellington and Auckland for rugby supporters unable to attend the Lions' matches.

Mr Tew says Vodafone brings a level of technical expertise and knowledge of what’s going on in the minds of young people and fans that the NZRU doesn’t have.

Vodafone says the new deal will have no impact on its rugby league sponsorship of the NZ Warriors.

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