Rugby-AIG decides against renewing sponsorship with NZ Rugby

WELLINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) are going to have seek a new major sponsor after AIG on Tuesday decided against renewing the current agreement when it ends next year.

The American insurance and financial services giant has sponsored NZR’s national teams since 2012 and signed a six-year renewal in 2016, with local media reporting the agreements were worth US$10 million to $20 million a year.

The sponsorship, reportedly NZR’s second largest behind a multi-year contract with sportswear manufacturer adidas , was to end in late 2021.

NZR’s largest revenue stream comes from television agreements, with local subscription broadcaster Sky TV reportedly paying NZ$500 million ($331.35 million) for another five-year term starting from 2021.

“We have enjoyed a hugely successful and mutually beneficial commercial partnership that has helped both AIG and NZR to strengthen our respective brands on the world stage,” NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said in a statement.

“Through this partnership, NZR and the six national teams sponsored by AIG have been able to grow rugby’s presence in new and growing markets, with opportunities to play in new territories and introduce our teams to new fans all over the world.”

While the country’s national teams are powerhouses of world rugby, the small financial resources and population in New Zealand have made it increasingly difficult for NZR to generate similar revenues to other sports or global sporting brands.

They announced a NZ$1.9 million loss for their last financial year in 2018 and while they had strong net assets, Chairman Brent Impey at its annual general meeting in April said future projections showed a “challenging” environment.

“Although we are pleased with our latest financial result these are still challenging times for rugby as we look further ahead,” Impey said at the time.

“The pressure to retain our talent and support the growth in our community game puts pressure on our long-term financial projections.”

The organisation is locked in a continual battle to retain players, with clubs in Britain, France and more recently Japan enticing All Blacks to the northern hemisphere with large salaries.

NZR’s only leverage is a policy of picking just those who are locally based for national sides, although they have made exceptions in recent years to structure flexible contracts for individual players.

Two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, for example, has a clause in his current four-year agreement to play one season in Japan, while senior lock Sam Whitelock is currently playing in Japan and will miss Super Rugby this year. ($1 = 1.5090 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christopher Cushing)