As Rugby becomes more and more commercial the competition to sponsor sides and supply kits has increased, with a host of companies looking to establish themselves in the market and align themselves with some of the top brands in the sport.
The Warrior brand is a relatively new name on the market, having previously focused on the North American markets of Ice Hockey and Lacrosse. Key Football deals, including Liverpool and AS Roma may soon be joined by Rugby Union contracts, with the company already having its foot in the door with an increasingly popular range of boots.
Macron are another name which is emerging in Europe, having recently added the Scottish national side and their two professional teams, Glasgow and Edinburgh, to established clients in Football, including Italy’s Napoli and English sides Leeds United and Aston Villa.
Reebok have retained an interest in both Rugby codes, with relationships with South African rugby side the Sharks and Australia Rugby League team St George Illawara, although Australian League is very much domianted by the presence of ISC, who look after the Roosters, Knights, Cowboys and the Sea Eagles, as well as Wigan, Leeds and St Helens in the UK.
Amongst a raft of other companies looking to get involved at the highest level are Samurai (London Welsh and the Exeter Chiefs), Kukri (Ulster and the Wasps), Gilbert (Newport Dragons), RugbyTech (London Irish & Connacht), Kappa (Racing Metro and Bayonne) and Asics (Castres Olympique and the NRL’s Penrith Panthers).
Of the established players apparel-giant adidas have always held a significant place in the world of rugby, and they currently have some of the globe’s most marketable brands in their stable. Amongst the sides they sponsor are New Zealand’s reigning world champions, the All Blacks, the British & Irish Lions who are set to tour Australia this year, and beaten finalists in the last Rugby World Cup, France. On the club side, adidas sponsor all five of New Zealand’s Super XV franchises as part of their deal with the NZRFU, as well as the Stormers from South African and Irish side Munster, and are responsible for the flamboyant kits associated with Stade Francais. And they still find time to look after other notable clients such as Football’s Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
adidas’ arch-rival Nike has downsized it’s involvement in Rugby of late, with Argentina’s national side, Los Pumas, becoming their marquee side following the end of their relationship with the England national side. In the Heineken Cup they are represented by Saracens and Toulouse, while they continue their relationship with the Brisbane Broncos in the Rugby League arena. Their lack of activity in the Rugby community is more then evened-out by their standing in international football however, with many of the games’ most notable names, including Barcelona, Juventus and Manchester United, all sporting the Nike Swoosh on their shirts.
CCC have established some significant relationships in the last few years, and currently list England, South Africa, Japan and USA in their stable of international sides. In the Southern Hemisphere they look after the Sydney-based NSW Waratahs, while Heineken Cup sides such as the Cardiff Blues, the Leicester Tigers, the Sale Sharks and Leinster all wear their kit. For the 2013 NRL season the Canterbury Bulldogs and the New Zealand Warriors will also have the 3 C’s on their jerseys.Puma’s announcement recently that they would be ending their relationship with the Irish national side means they currently represent no international sides, although there are rumours that a deal with the Springboks is in the pipeline. That announcement comes as part of the biggest restructuring the company has faced in 20 years, and sees it pulling out of a number of their less lucrative fields. Puma is a diverse brand, with ties to Formula 1’s Ferrari and Olympic Superstar Usain Bolt, and there is only room in their stable at the moment for a handful of club sides, such as Bath and Zebre from the Northern Hemisphere, and South Africa’s Bulls and Cheetahs.
Swiss company Burrda is a new player on the scene, and has quickly established itself in the European market. Existing clients such as the Hull Rugby League side and the Belgian National Football side have been joined by Heineken Cup teams Northampton, Biarritz, Toulon and the Scarlets.
A big player in the Southern Hemisphere, in particular Australia, is Kooga, which also encompasses the BLK brand. Alongside the Wallabies Kooga also look after Pacific Island sides’ Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, and North American side Canada. On the club scene they sponsor all the Australian Super sides accept for the Waratahs, as well as reigning NRL Champions the Melbourne Storm. In Europe they count Gloucester, Ospreys and Worcester amongst their key clients.
While Under Armour’s focus has previously sat with training gear they have manufactured the Welsh rugby side’s kit for some time now, and recently dipped their toes in the water of the English Premiership, striking up a deal with London side Tottenham Hotspur. Under Armour epitomise the new breed of apparel manufacture, who combine expereince in a wide range of sports and an ability to manufacture everything from playing gear to boots and safety equipment, and the market-place only looks like getting more and more compeitive and congested in the future, as companies’ recognise the opportunities inherent in the ever-expanding world of rugby.