The British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby have announced the creation of a joint venture for the 2021 Tour to South Africa, the first time the tourists have entered into an extensive commercial collaboration with their hosts.
Described as a “ground-breaking, new model” when announced on Friday, the venture’s stated aim is “to maximise the Tour’s appeal by bringing together two of the biggest brands in world rugby to work in a more collaborative way”.
The CSM agency was appointed as the 2021 Tour’s official sponsorship agency late last year, to exclusively manage the sponsorship rights of both parties in a combined manner, a model used with the same agency on the 2017 Tour to New Zealand, though that was a non-exclusive venture.
This new deal between the Lions and SA Rugby will combine their commercial offering, and, it claimed on Friday: “enable broadcasters, partners, and licensees the chance to fully leverage and activate around a new centralised programme”.
The most visible manifestation of the commercial collaboration for supporters will be a new approach to the popular tour documentary that has proved to be a best-selling DVD for the Lions every four years. This time around the documentary will feature footage from the camps of Warren Gatland’s Lions and the world-champion Springboks on the eight-game tour, the dates of which were confirmed earlier this week starting on July 3 next year and finishing with the third and final Test in Johannesburg on August 7.
There will also be a co-ordinated ticketing, travel, and hospitality programme to ensure fans have more access to the Tour matches taking place in South Africa next year.
Lions managing director Ben Calveley said in a statement that the joint venture with SA Rugby was the first time a Lions Tour has been approached in this way and added: “A Lions Tour is a global sporting event and its continuous commercial growth over the last decade has made it clear that a more collaborative, efficient, and optimised structure was needed.
“Together with SA Rugby, this new approach will ensure that the 2021 Tour will reach new heights and avoid some of the inefficiencies we have experienced on previous tours. While competition on the field of play is great, off the field we should aspire to work collaboratively to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts.”
According to a report from SportsBusiness last November, sponsorship accounts for between 60 and 70 per cent of the Lions’ revenues on each tour. The same report said they sold their shirt sponsorship rights to Standard Life for the 2017 tour for €7.3 million, an increase from the approximately €5m earned from HSBC four years earlier for the tour to Australia.
While citing “a more joined-up approach to CRM (Consumer Relationship Management), digital and social content will provide more opportunities to engage with the global rugby fanbase,” the potential for both the Lions and South Africans will be the ability to grow their customer databases and give each party, and their sponsors, access to the other’s supporters.
SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux, said: “The creation of the joint venture is an important milestone on our journey towards next year’s series against the Lions.
“Our partnership with the Lions is a good example of rugby’s northern and southern hemispheres working together to create greater benefits for both organisations.
“I am confident that this new more collaborative approach will help unlock new and increased revenues for South African rugby and the British & Irish Lions, which gets reinvested in the game, and look forward to working in close partnership between now and the Tour next year.”