Rugby AU hit by loss of Super Rugby sponsor

Sports

Rugby Australia has been dealt another sizeable blow, with Harvey Norman opting not to renew its three-year sponsorship of Super Rugby.

The news was confirmed by chairperson Gerry Harvey on Thursday, with the company shifting its sports sponsorship focus elsewhere.

“What we do is, we do whatever sport for a while; we don’t necessarily hang on to it forever,” Harvey told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“So we move around on different sports so we’re very heavy into sport advertising that we don’t necessarily stay with the one sport forever.

“You know we think ‘oh we’ve given that a good go, then we’ll go on to the next one’. In all cases we stop at some stage.”

Harvey’s explanation is credible given Harvey Norman has previously sponsored State of Origin among other historic deals.

Contacted for comment by ESPN, an RA spokesperson told ESPN: “Rugby Australia (RA) wishes to thank Harvey Norman for its enthusiastic support of Rugby over the last three years. RA is currently in market and actively involved in discussions for a replacement.”

Harvey Norman’s exit comes just a few days after Hamish McLennan departed the RA board, having lost a vote to remain as chairman against former Wallabies centre Daniel Herbert. McLennan decided not to retain a place on the board thereafter, hitting out at a “smear campaign” he insisted had been waged to strip him of power.

While McLennan made a series of questionable calls during his time as chairman, he had been credited with helping to shore up the battling code’s fraught financial position.

Speaking about his decision to step away from the board during an interview with 2GB on Monday, McLennan said the code would no longer have access to his business acumen.

“When a board goes through a process like that, they obviously want change,” he said.

“I understand it was a bit of a split vote, which is sort of interesting, so I think what’s happened is actually going to create more divisions within rugby, not less as they talk about unity.

“They can’t lean on me to continue to help on broadcast deals and the Rugby World Cups in Australia and all the other commercial matters and still expect me to contribute in that regard.”

While Super Rugby has had various sponsors throughout its history — from Vodafone, Investec, Tooheys — Harvey Norman’s three-year involvement had come when the code was on its knees at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had only recently been ravaged by the Israel Folau saga.

Harvey Norman’s exit does not affect New Zealand, with NZ Rugby in charge of its own sponsorship of Super Rugby, which is currently tied to DHL.

Cadbury, meanwhile, is three years into a five-year deal as the Wallabies’ major sponsor, having replaced QANTAS after the airline ended its long association with Australian rugby.

After six member unions issued a motion of no-confidence in McLennan’s stewardship via a letter that called for his resignation last Friday, the chairman then set about shoring up his support before a series of meetings over the weekend eventually brought about the vote that deposed him.

“If you just look at some of the support I had from former Prime Minister John Howard, John Coates; key sponsors, Cadbury… a lot of support out there and Andrew Forrest and Nicola Forrest. So they’re not dumb people, they’re really smart, they know it’s a journey. And in life, any business takes time to fix.”

With Super Rugby Pacific set to kick off on Feb. 23, RA has exactly three months to find a new naming-rights sponsor for a competition that is already struggling to resonate with fans on both sides of the Tasman.

That task will surely be at the top of Herbert’s list, so too chief executive Phil Waugh, whom the new chairman said had already been engaging current broadcasters Stan Sport as the code prepares to head to market for its next television deal.

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