Mind Games: Asics-Bok deal puts paid to that annoying kiwis logo

2013-09-02 10:00

A significant moment for the Springboks passed almost unnoticed this week.

At a function held at the aptly artificial surroundings of Johannesburg’s replicated Tuscan city, Monte Casino, it was announced that the Boks are finally to be stripped of their New Zealand connection.

It has long irked me that all Springbok jerseys display a graphic of three pointy-beaked kiwis, the national bird of New Zealand and the logo of kit sponsor Canterbury.

But it was announced that the SA Rugby Union (Saru) has signed with a new apparel sponsor in Asics, which means that, from January 2014 and through the next two World Cups, in London in 2015 and Tokyo in 2019, there will be a new brand on the jersey rather than the marque of South Africa’s keenest rugby rivals.

Although it was denied, the new sponsorship, brokered by Saru’s commercial partner Megapro, obviously has a lot to do with Asics looking ahead to the World Cup being staged in Japan, their home country, in 2019.

Rugby will receive a tremendous boost in Asia and the Springboks have provided Asics, long associated with fine running shoes, with the ideal vehicle to not only gain a foothold in rugby but push into new markets.

“Asics has made a strategic decision to make the sport of rugby a priority,” said Alistair Cameron, Asics’ head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“The Springboks are one of the most important assets in the sporting-goods world. We want to build the brand awareness together.”

Market research has shown the All Blacks’ jersey, with its silver fern, is the most recognisable brand in rugby. By signing up with a more powerful global company, Saru intends to grab a bigger slice of the lucrative replica-kit market.

There were other references to the power of the Springbok brand, which I found somewhat disingenuous on the part of Saru officials who, for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011, were willing to move the famous emblem to the sleeve of the jersey while the sponsor’s insignia stayed on the chest.

It was also interesting that Saru – apart from CEO Jurie Roux, who would have tended to the business side of the deal – was represented not by president Oregan Hoskins, but by deputy president Mark Alexander, who some years ago was one of those believed to be in favour of scrapping the Springbok as SA rugby’s emblem. This was the second key Saru event Hoskins has missed recently.

He was not at FNB Stadium for the Nelson Mandela Day double-header on August 17. He was on duty as the International Rugby Board’s vice-chairperson at a Rugby World Cup qualifier in the USA.

He was unable to be at the sponsorship announcement because he was attending a course as part of his MBA course – good reasons both, but they are likely to give impetus to rumours that Alexander will challenge for the presidency come Saru’s annual general meeting next March.

By signing up with their new sponsor, Saru joins the athletics federations of France, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia and Japan as well as Cricket Australia. All are sponsored by Asics.

The new Springbok jerseys will make their first appearance in January next year on the backs of the Blitzbokke in the Sevens World Series.

The press release promises “the new apparel will include compression fabrics to improve blood circulation, laser-cut ventilation (whatever that is), ergonomic design and recycled materials”.

All the right noises were made about stimulating the South African garment industry through local manufacture but, in truth, the aim will be to counter the success Adidas has had with the All Blacks, and Nike with England and France, in the high-volume European markets.

Any cynicism about the deal aside, plus points are that the Boks will have access to Asics’ state-of-the-art training facility in Kobe, Japan’s fifth-largest city, and will be required to play a role in developing individually tailored kit to suit the various field positions. As Asics marketing manager Max Keen remarked: “Every little margin counts.”

I quite liked MC Xola Ntshinga’s line that, with Asics having made their name in running (the runner does not exist who did not at some stage own a pair of blue-and-white Asics Tigers), it would be nice to see a little more running in the Boks side. And so say all of us!

» dan.retief@citypress.co.za

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