Lions share of €8m tour won't cost unions

THE 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand is expected to cost €8 million, which will be raised in sponsorship and licensing opportunities.

Irish chief executive of the Lions John Feehan says the indications are that the tour will break even financially.

Feehan, who is also chief executive of the Six Nations, has spent two years planning the commercial and logistical aspects of the 2005 tour and he told the Irish Rugby Newsletter he hopes the tour may even make a profit.

"Historically, the tour costs the home unions money," says Feehan.

"We want to see a situation where they can actually make something out of it. Otherwise, they might not be as supportive as they have been in the past."

While Zurich, Adidas and Guinness are the main sponsors, supplier arrangements have been put in place with retail clothing company Eden Park, equipment manufacturers Predator and Unichem, the medical supplies firm. It is expected additional deals will also be made.

Adidas are also kit sponsors for the All Blacks, which gives the company maximum brand exposure during the tour. This is the third time in a row Adidas is kit sponsor, despite competition from other manufacturers like the New Zealand-based Canterbury.

"We took the view that we would sell the jersey sponsorship direct rather than doing it through a third party," said Feehan.

"We had a number of interested companies lined up but Zurich emerged as the main player. Zurich was involved in a lesser capacity in the last tour and decided they wanted to step up to the mark this time around. So they came on board towards the end of 2003 and that was a big help.

"Historically deals like this were often done six or seven months before the tour. This time around we felt it was important to have the big sponsors on board well in advance.

"Besides, sponsors also need time to consider all the different angles involved and gone are the days when they had money stashed away in the top drawer that they could whip out at a moment's notice."

Feehan says the other main source of revenue is ticket sales through official tour operators, who are expecting to bring up to 20,000 people from Ireland and the UK. Then there is the income derived from the sale of replica jerseys, t-shirts, balls and other leisurewear, as well as merchandise like books and DVDs.

While Feehan says all indications are that the 2005 tour will just about break even, at best it could turn in a modest profit, most of which would go to the home unions.

Feehan is a former tight-head prop for Trinity College, Old Wesley and Leinster and brings a wealth of commercial sales and marketing experience to his position with the Lions after stints at multinational companies like Unilever and Scottish & Newcastle.

"Many people tend to forget a big part of sporting equation is the business end," says Feehan.

"This applies just as much to small clubs as it does to the organisations that represent them and those that are responsible for sport in general.

"Obviously we want to continue to be the best at what we do and ensure that the Lions continue for another 100 years.

"From a business perspective, it is important that we become profitable as a company and this will go a long way in helping to become profitable. If we can do that then the future for the Lions is very promising."

The 2005 tour - the biggest ever - kicks off with a pre-tour match against Argentina in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on May 23 and continues with the game against the Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on June 4. It ends with the third and final test against the All Blacks in Auckland on July 9. In all, 12 games will be played, three of which will be the all-important Test matches.

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