The All Blacks brand —
Does success hinge on one event?

With the Rugby World Cup less than three months away the pressure on the All Blacks to win is building towards its four yearly climax. As the tournaments perennial favourites and as hosts, the All Blacks brand is set to receive significant exposure. So, how will this exposure impact the value of our largest brand? And, what happens if we don’t win?

The All Blacks brand has played a significant role in representing New Zealand – from the haka, to the colour black and establishing the nation’s emblem of the Silver Fern on the global stage. The fact that it still enjoys the loyal following amongst New Zealanders is a reflection of the brand’s ability to uphold a set of values that New Zealanders are proud to stand behind. But it’s only in the last 25 years that the All Blacks have evolved from our most well known representative team into a truly global brand juggernaut. So what are the factors behind this transformation and what does the future hold?

Throughout the world, and across different sports codes, the rise of professionalism coupled with the commercialisation of recreation has changed the way in which sports are perceived and consumed. As the balance shifts from building a successful team to commercial profit targets, the adaptation of business principles becomes crucial to the management of sports teams and the brands that they build.

When you look into the value of the All Blacks, or any other major sports team brand through a commercial lens the key to the value of the brand is it’s ability to deliver repeated success and winning on the big stage. This success leads directly to creating a legion of loyal supporters – committed to the brand and it’s cause. When you look at the supporter’s base of the most successful sports brands it’s the Manchester United’s, New York Yankees and Tiger Woods (pre‐marital mishap) that lead the way in terms of attracting an audience and therefore the TV ‐ rights and sponsors dollar.

In the case of Manchester United – you are talking about the biggest brand in world football – valued at approximately $285m(US), and the most successful team in premier league history with over 19 Premierships and 11 FA Cups to their name. Estimated to be valued as a club at $1.83bn (US), the team has lucrative deals with Aon (£23m) and Nike (£20m) annually. While the brand is undoubtedly based on the team’s sustained success in the Premier league and across Europe, of particular relevance is the way the brand has used this success to endear itself across the Asian continent – which is home to half of the team’s core sponsorship base.

Like Manchester United, the All Blacks brand has been built on a legacy of greatness established by those who have worn it previously. It is this commitment to excellence and sustained success that has earned the All Blacks its revered status and element of mystique that makes it such an attractive marketing proposition. This is the very element that Adidas has identified as means to leverage the brand a grow rugby as a market and position itself as the leading brand within this particular sport. It is because the All Blacks have been able to sustain a winning record in excess of 75 percent since 1884 that drew Adidas’s into its initial multimillion‐dollar apparel contract in 1999 and extended in 2008 to 2019 for approximately $20m (€ 12.5m) – making it one of the longest sponsorship deals held by Adidas.

Starting with Adidas’s investment in the brand and taking in the brands additional sponsorship arrangements, broadcast rights contracts, gate takings, merchandise sales and player values, a conservative estimate of the All Blacks brand is between $190m and $220m dollars. In terms of other sports brands, this puts the All Blacks in the same league as the likes of Chelsea FC, Juventus and the Boston Red Sox. But the question remains, how will the brand fare if it looses on home soil or win the World cup again at home?

The Indian Cricket team provides a captivating case as it has only recently established itself at the top of cricket’s pecking order. Like rugby in New Zealand, cricket enjoys a religious devotion in India. But it’s the team’s recent success at the highest level ‐ that has catapulted the team from Bollywood’s poor cousin, to the marketing vehicle of choice in terms of endearing a brand to the nations burgeoning middle class. Both Manchester United and the Indian Cricket team highlight the importance of success at the sports highest level.

While the overall winning percentage in enviable, victory for South Africa or Australia will give either team considerable clout in terms of claiming their place as the greatest rugby nation and subsequently the strongest rugby brand. While the All Blacks brand will receive some protection from the fact that Adidas’s deal is valid for 10 years, it is the ability to attract the suite of supporting sponsors and the broadcast rights dollar that will see the All Blacks brand dented in terms of earning power and there is a real chance that All Blacks as a brand follows a similar path as Brazil’s football team. 

Brazil is the most successful team in FIFA world cup history, having amassed 5 wins since the tournaments inception in 1930. Across the globe the yellow jersey has symbolised excitement, enthusiasm and excellence that all other teams aspire to. Yet, the teams inability to perform and feature at the final stages of recent World Cups has seen a decrease in the equity of the brand ‐ as evidenced by Nike’s latest sponsorship deals which sees the company spending considerably more on the brands of Manchester United, Barcelona and even the French national team.

Dr Mike Lee, Senior Marketing Lecturer at The University of Auckland Business School agrees “The bottom line of the matter is that behind every symbolic and/or experiential offering of any brand (whether it’s a product, service, or sports team) functional performance is the basic requirement. Sure there is a lot of intangible value associated with the All Blacks jersey, it is a classic symbol of understated Kiwi ruggedness with a subtle touch of flair. This is reflected in the ‘sophisticated’ and ‘exhilarating’ style of game play the All Blacks bring to the field, which is distinct from the gruff tenacity of the Wallabies, the highly pragmatic defence of the Springboks, or the chess like strategy of the English team.

But underlying all these ‘traits’, if the brand fails to perform, everything else is just window dressing. Ferrari is another prime example of this, sure that brand offers very distinct symbolic and experiential benefits but bottom line is that the core function of the product has to be delivered, in the case of Ferrari this means getting from A to B very quickly. Competitions, especially high stake ones, are the best ways of showcasing a brand’s ability to perform. So the Rugby World Cup will be the biggest test for the All Blacks since 1987”.

The next stage in the evolution of the All Blacks brand lies in the ability to attract global companies to enter its stable of sponsors. A victory in this years world cup will cement the All Blacks brand in the highest echelons of the worlds sporting brands. A loss on the other hand could see the All Blacks enter the forlorn territory of sporting bridesmaids like Arsenal, The Mets and The Baggy Green.