Análisis de la comunicación: insights y soluciones desde PROA


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AIG – All Blacks Rugby sponsorship: an example of a success story

Recently it was announced that the sponsorship of AIG, the world leader in the insurance world, with the All Blacks, the best known and most emblematic team in the world of Rugby, was not going to be renewed. This news has caused a lot of impact as it is one of the most recognized sports sponsorships at a global level

This termination of the agreement could perhaps be interpreted as a case of sponsorship that is not profitable and yet nothing could be further from the truth. We are facing one of the most fruitful and profitable partnerships in the marketing world in recent years and we will analyse why later on.

It is important to specify that, as such action within the marketing mix, sponsorships are usually part of a temporary strategy in accordance with specific corporate objectives. Although it is always recommended that, in order to be effective, this type of agreement should be long term, it is also true that once the objectives set at the beginning of the agreement have been reached, the relationship has an expiry date.

In this case, it can be said with total clarity that for AIG the association with the All Blacks has been a total success and the objectives foreseen at the beginning of the agreement have been more than fulfilled. Apart from the benefit that this agreement has brought to the company, it is also worth mentioning that for the sports marketing industry, this agreement has also meant a reference of good practices and trends, which we will undoubtedly see as a rule in the years to come.

The beginnings

In 2012, AIG decides to recover its old corporate name. After the bankruptcy and subsequent rescue by the U.S. government in 2008, the company stopped being called that way and adopted other names for its businesses and divisions such as AIU, Chartis or SunAmerica.

After a few years, the directors of the insurance company realized that changing the name did not solve the problems that were dragging on reputation and image. In the age of the Internet, it is certainly not easy to erase a turbulent past, let alone regain the trust of old customers. The key was therefore to change the communication strategy and not to try to hide their past problems. It was necessary to start over, bring in a new discourse and thus improve the company’s reputation.

The first step was to convey appreciation to the American taxpayers who had contributed to the rescue of the company and as a second step, to convince current and potential customers that this restart was based on solid principles and values.

It is in this scenario that the need to seek a global sponsorship asset arises, to find a property that reflects the values that the brand wanted to transmit and that was flexible enough to be useful to the more than 80 markets in which the company operates on a global level.

The arrival of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, was not, however, straightforward. Firstly, it was necessary to study which was the best communication platform and after a thorough study it was decided that the sport of Rugby was the best possible support for the objectives and values that needed to be communicated. These were the main arguments that motivated their choice:

  • A global, diverse and socio-economically attractive fan base.
  • A standard of respect and fair play in the competition, far above the great global sports.
  • Growing popularity globally, especially in the US.
  • Inclusion of Rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games and world championships in key markets such as Japan.

Once it was clear that the narrative of the company’s new discourse was going to be through Rugby, reaching an agreement with the All Blacks seemed the most obvious move, as they are the most successful team in the history of the sport. Equally, the genuine values of the New Zealand team fit like a glove with the message that this ‘reborn’ AIG wanted to convey.

However, there was a problem: the iconic New Zealand national team shirt had never carried any publicity, it was something like ‘sacred territory’. The solution came through an agreement that went far beyond putting the logo on the front of the shirt, it was a very broad agreement that covered all of New Zealand’s activity as a country, linked to rugby, including the women’s team and social inclusion programmes through the sport itself. The commitment to values, as we can see, was not a matter of effect from the beginning, but was clearly vocational. Undoubtedly, this was one of the reasons for the success of the agreement: a credible and sustained line of argument over time.

An agreement was signed for four years at a rate of approximately EUR 15 million per season. This agreement was renewed in 2016 for another four years until the end of this year, when the contract was officially terminated. Compared to their previous sponsorship, the Manchester United football team, (whose price would be around 45 million euros per year), it could be said that the All Blacks were a ‘cheap’ property, something that added positively to the performance of this reborn AIG. It remained to be seen whether the investment would be comparatively profitable later on. By way of comparison, the company realised just one year after the start of the relationship that the return on investment achieved up to 2009 with football was actually much less profitable than with Rugby. No one doubts the power of the Manchester reds in the world’s sporting universe, it is undoubtedly one of the most powerful global sporting brands, but that sponsorship was ultimately perceived internationally as something eminently English. A property like the All Blacks, on the other hand, could be embraced just as naturally by an Englishman, an Argentinian or a Japanese. There is no polarization, no country effect, it is nothing more or less than a world icon of sport, which does not generate rejection of any kind in general.

Seen from the point of view of communication, the All Blacks with their genuine image of diversity, as well as their impeccable trajectory of human and sporting values, recognised with such prestigious awards as the Laureus or Princess of Asturias prizes, also represented a much more effective vehicle for the transmission of messages, than that of Manchester United. Despite the impressive media visibility of the Premier League’s most successful team, the communication of their messages rarely went beyond their loyal fan base.

The activation

As far as the exploitation of sponsorship is concerned, AIG had a very innovative approach from the very beginning and, making the need a virtue, developed a powerful activation strategy, aimed at thinking much more about the message, than about the mere global brand visibility, a priori its main weakness.

It should be said that, still too often, when it comes to assessing the return on investment of a sponsorship, brand visibility in the media is still valued as an absolutely paramount factor. The All Blacks, despite their enormous global prestige, have annual television coverage figures that are very modest compared to the big football, NBA basketball or Formula 1 teams. In the end, we are talking about a national team in a sport that still has comparatively small television audiences, as well as few competitive milestones throughout the year.

Therefore, it was time to sharpen our wits and AIG had to be clear that it had to maximize the investment, by other means than the traditional ones, of displaying the company’s logo. As I will explain below, it was a communication strategy based on the digital environment and very pioneering at the time, the recipe for success enjoyed throughout the eight years of the ‘All Blacks-AIG’ agreement.

These days, when the world is shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, it is showing us an unusual approach of the great figures of sport with their fans, through online communications of all kinds, either through Instagram Live or YouTube channels. This situation, forced by the circumstances, I do not believe that it will be limited to a question limited to this time. On the contrary, I believe that it will mark from now on a way of communicating between fans and sports heroes, which has come to stay and in this sense, the actions that AIG has been developing since the beginning of the sponsorship went in this direction.  We just have to see how the current situation of total paralysis of sports competitions is giving us extraordinary moments of digital closeness with the sportsman, which until recently we would not have imagined. Think, for example, of the stars of Formula 1 sharing virtual races with amateurs or professional gamers. Let’s think about those chats vis a vis between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Even if they are virtual, rarely have we felt our heroes as close as we do now.

All of AIG’s digital actions with the All Blacks, complemented by other live experiences, wanted to build on that feeling of closeness. The complicity between the stars of the team and their universe of receivers was always sought. Let’s see some examples of this:

Digital content campaign ‘branded content’ adapted by countries with the message ‘Tackle your risks’, where a star of the team makes a tackling move and knocks down characters that represent threats. #TackleTheRisk, an original three-minute online film

  • All AIG employees received one of the iconic team shirts (60,000) and special conditions for customers who requested it.
  • Rugby clinics in different markets, for different groups and stakeholders, with the presence of active All Blacks players or retired legends.
  • Competitions and games in a digital environment, as a commercial tool to attract new contacts, with prizes for attending matches and official signed merchandising.
  • Frequent communications to thank both the American taxpayers who have rescued the company with their taxes, and society through ‘Thank you’ and ‘Giving Back to the community’ campaigns.

In summary, the conclusion can be drawn that not all sponsorship necessarily depends fundamentally on media coverage (primarily television). AIG’s innovative approach shows that, with the right players, it is possible to carve out a significant niche in the saturated world of social media content. There are few sports icons with enough pull and appeal to achieve this, but clearly the ‘AllBlacks’ have proven to be capable of doing so and offer, by different routes than traditional ones, a very outstanding return on investment.

AIG, eight years after the start of this association, is one of the most solvent companies in the world with a solid reputation, where its employees can have a legitimate pride of belonging and its clients can have confidence in the good use of their savings. The bar is set very high for the successors of the most legendary team in the world of Rugby in this new phase.

Pablo de Villota
Responsible for the Sport & Entertainment Area of Proa Comunicación



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