Vodafone has signed a four-year sponsorship deal with New Zealand Rugby that will see the telco take on the role of 'connectivity partner' for the five national teams, including the All Blacks.
In its role as 'connectivity partner', Vodafone will power a new All Blacks app with a range of viewing experiences, including a new in-stadium experience that will allow fans to replay tries, view highlights and view the live footage from different angles.
The new features will be launched during the upcoming Lions Tour, scheduled to start on 3 June.
“We want to offer rugby fans the ultimate experience," said New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. "This partnership with Vodafone means 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. It is an incredibly exciting development. This is a great partnership for New Zealand Rugby in terms of where we want to take the game. It is important to us that we move with the times and offer a world leading fan experience, and in this day and age that means integrating innovative technology into our fan offering."
The sponsorship partnership will also extend beyond the stadium, with Vodafone providing high-speed broadband in Lions series fan zones and supporting a New Zealand rugby road-trip throughout the month-long tour.
The arrival of Vodafone fills the telco-shaped hole in the All Blacks sponsorship portfolio created when Telecom (now Spark) discontinued its sponsorship of the team at the end of 2013.
At the time, Telecom's then-general manager Kellie Nathan said the sponsorship simply didn't give the organisation enough exposure.
“For Telecom, the All Blacks sponsorship didn’t work," she said. "We didn’t feature strongly enough in our tracking as an All Blacks sponsor to get the attribution we needed to justify the investment. There are so many others involved who have done a lot of work to build up a presence. So rather than be one of many, we said let’s own something and develop it from the grassroots up.”
With Vodafone joining the fray, it will jostle for attention in a field that includes Adidas, AIG, Steinlager, Air New Zealand, ASB, Ford, Gatorade, Sanitarium and Unilever. Suffice to say, the telco will have to get creative if it plans to stand out.
In addition to sponsoring the All Blacks, Vodafone also has a long-running, naming-rights partnership with the Vodafone Warriors. In 2014, Vodafone renewed its deal with the rugby league side for a further four years, extending the partnership to 2018 and making it the longest of its kind in New Zealand.
Given the hefty price tag an All Blacks sponsorship demands, it will be interesting to see if Vodafone decides to renew its deal with the Warriors once it expires.
Vodafone's communications team has not yet responded to our question as to whether the telco will be renewing its sponsorship with Warriors next year (this story will be updated should Vodafone choose to comment).