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All Blacks – A Champion Brand

27th Sep, 16  |    0 Comments

Sport, especially team sport is a wonderful measure and humbler of man’s opinion, of their own importance.  Professional team sport changes the notion of participation to one of ‘reward’ – spectator, sponsor, organiser and player.  The Brand, just as with business, can lose its appeal very quickly.  Through behaviour or performance or greed.

Arthur Andersen was formerly one of the ‘big five’ accounting firms along with Price Waterhouse Coopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG.  They surrendered their license to practice as Certified Public Accountants after being found guilty of criminal charges relating to the firm’s handling of the auditing of Euron – an energy corporation based in Texas.  There are many examples of business demise through my lifetime, and I’m sure due to the special appeal of capitalism, there will be many to follow.  The ‘Chiefs’ management and leadership group of their rugby team must be in complete disaster recovery mode.

Ask Westpac poohbahs as they close rural and regional outposts if they feel any heat on their Brand.

My attention to this topic however was not attracted by demise or disfavour, just the opposite.  After another commanding performance the All Blacks (a Brand of excellence) have won the Rugby Championship against its southern hemisphere opponents, with two games yet to play.  A tremendously meritorious accomplishment considering the player transition which took place following victory in the 3rd World Cup in 2015.  Creeping into journalism and competing codes commentary is the notion of ‘predictability’.  As though unpredictability is something to be savoured.

Having been an avid rugby fan since the Springbok tour in 1956 I can assure any interested party that the All Blacks have not always deserved the title of a champion Brand.  They have endured many periods of mediocre performance on and off the field.  The current era is not one of them and we should enjoy the ride because history tells us it will not last.  Sport, just as with capitalist economies, has a way of evolving and transforming to match changing expectations.  And I guess that’s where the ‘entertainment’ complaint emanates.  Some people want the score to drive the spectacle rather than the performance and excellence of professional skill?  Rather like 20/20 cricket, 7’s rugby and 10’s in league.  Chance rather than performance.  Unpredictability versus professionalism and consistency.

Sir Gordon Tietjens has been the toast of NZ Rugby Sevens for many years.  Knighted for his efforts in winning multiple tournaments and developing many All Black greats.  Obviously a great coach and mentor, but the era has ended.  Other countries have watched and learned and the same will occur with the All Blacks.  I hope it’s not in my lifetime because I want to travel the world and watch predictability completed by a Brand and team I admire and of whom we should all be proud.

Unlike Graham Henry (now working with the Warriors) I don’t believe the opposition is weak.  The All Blacks have a culture and command of the game at the moment which is superior.  It is driven from the top and delivered at the coal face.  There is obvious leadership and respect, consideration for welfare and family values.  When you combine this type of passion with a superior game plan (the coaches) and superior skills (the players) the outcome is predictability.  Every sponsor’s desire and every supporter’s dream.

On the chest of each All Black team jersey are the letters AIG.  They stand for American International Group.  A great American insurance company.  But it was not always so.

In 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis, AIG, was sinking fast.  It was also the peg on which the nation hung its ire and resentment during the crisis: the pinnacle of Wall Street arrogance and greed in the eyes of many Americans, which few felt deserved to be saved from collapse by a government bailout.

When Bob Benmosche climbed aboard as AIG’s CEO in August 2009, it was widely assumed that he would go down with his ship.  But in mere months, he turned the company around, pulling it from the brink of financial collapse and restoring its profitability.  Before three years were up, AIG had fully repaid its staggering debt of more than $182 billion to the US government – plus an additional $22.7 billion in profit.  With his brash, no-holds-barred approach to the job, Benmosche restored AIG’s employee morale and its good name.

When the All Blacks next play at Soldiers Field in Chicago in November (the Maori All Blacks also play in Chicago that week) it will mark the confluence of two of my great passions of a lifetime.  Sport and Business, more specifically Rugby and Insurance.  Success has never been certain for either but just at the moment, I’m enjoying the ride and the Brands that are delivering it.  The bottom line for any Brand is what they do rather than what they say they can do.  Do they walk the walk?

When Bob Benmosche talked the talk in 2009 neither Congress nor the Treasury believed him – they sure did three years later.

When Steve Hansen said his management team wanted to take the All Blacks to new levels of performance after the departure of many of the world champion team members, the rugby public expected a rebuilding phase.  Hansen was true to his word and his team – he has raised the bar to new levels of skill and endurance.  Truly a champion Brand.


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