When AIG announced its five-and-a-half year sponsorship deal with the NZRU and plonked its logo in the middle of the esteemed black jersey, some naysayers decried the game's descent into commercialism, while those involved in the deal celebrated the massive boost it would give the game in this country. As is almost always the case, no-one really seems to care anymore. The logo is just ... there. And now that the dust has settled on the unveiling of the jersey, AIG has launched its first major rugby-related campaign, 'It's Our Job'.
"It’s definitely more of a brand piece and an introduction of the sponsorship," says Amy McNicol, AIG’s manager, global sponsorships. "We wanted to be really respectful of the sport, the fans and the culture and highlight what goes into match day."
McNicol, who moved from a sponsorship role with NZ Cricket and worked in the sponsorship department at Manchester United before that, says its objective was to "go about sponsorship in a slightly different way to most other insurers". And this meant positioning itself as one cog in the All Blacks wheel and focusing more on those behind-the-scenes, like the bus driver, the logistics manager, the ball boy, the medic and coach Steve Hansen.
"We’re not trying to say that we’re part of the team, we’re trying to say we’re part of the team behind the team.”
She says there will always be those who are against sponsorship. But that attitude fails to take into account the huge benefits it offers, such as higher salaries for the players and the looming professionalisation of the women’s game. AIG certainly doesn’t take credit for that, she says, but funding from commercial partners is essential to make it happen.
She says the company was sympathetic to the New Zealand public’s concerns, however, and it did make some concessions by altering its logo and shrinking it to make it consistent with the jersey. But it's more than just a logo on a jersey of the top team. It sponsors a range of New Zealand national teams, and is investing heavily in grassroots rugby (for example, the recent Rippa Rugby competition).
Sponsorship is not just about altruism. There are obviously commercial imperatives as well. And so far, almost one year in, she says the company is “definitely viewing it as successful”. AIG didn’t have much of a presence in the New Zealand market before the deal was signed and was more of a B2B insurer. But awareness of the brand is up significantly and it’s just launched a new consumer travel product, so it will be using its sponsorship to promote the fact that it is now playing in that space.
Its goals are much broader than the very small New Zealand market, however, as evidenced by its sponsorship of the Sevens World Cup. The All Blacks are known around the world and, as an example of its global approach, the TV campaign, which was created by Augusto (creative director Oliver Maisey, DOP Aaron Morton and director Michelle Walshe) has been tweaked for eight different markets, with the fans featuring in each ad relating to the country it’s showing in (the shoot was done over three days, with a lot of the in-game shots taken at the test match against France in New Plymouth).
AIG also sponsors the US rugby team and supports grassroots rugby there too, and, with the NZRU’s desire to increase the popularity of rugby in that country and around the world, it's a good fit. She says there has seen some increase in participation levels in the US, but football is hard to compete against and “it’s always going to be a battle to make rugby a mainstream sport in such a huge country.”
AIG also has a big presence in Japan, with 13,000 staff in its second biggest market. In July, the NZRU announced a late addition to the All Blacks' schedule with a test match against Japan in Tokyo in November. A few months before, however, the NZRU said there was no room in the schedule for the All Blacks’ to play a test match in the Pacific Islands, so some have read between the lines on that decision.
McNicol says the relationship with Augusto started before she arrived at AIG, but because it had worked with Adidas and the NZRU before, she says it had a reputation for its quality creative work, it had the trust of the players, it understood of the restrictions and, as evidenced by the secretive launch of Adidas’ white-collared jersey, it was discreet.
The cost of the sponsorship is commercially sensitive, but she says it’s not as big as Adidas, which NZRU chief executive Steve Tew believes is the biggest sponsorship deal in world rugby.