Any brand or marketing manager worth his salt will tell you to either do things to a standard representative of the brand, or not at all. So how could it be possible that England, a £150 million pound business, are sending out what will effectively constitute a second team for a test match against the All Blacks in a scenario no other premium brand would ever contemplate?
The blame has centred on a technicality that was allegedly exploited by the SANZAR teams prior to England’s recent regime change. The international window for the northern hemisphere teams’ southern tours starts ‘on the second weekend of June’ and last Sunday being June 1st allowed Saturday June 7th to be deemed that weekend, despite it clearly going against the spirit of the law that required domestic competitions to finish in May, a full two weeks prior.
If we go with the bookies’ odds and assume England will need to win either the second or third test to dodge a whitewash and both of them to avoid a series defeat, then we can also assume England’s stock will drop during the tour and that will surely have a significant impact on revenue.
A figure bandied around by those who marketed England during the 2007 World Cup, suggested there was around 1 million hard core England fans, with that figure rising to approximately 8 million when everyone was aboard the bandwagon of success. This means that England’s product for the majority of their customer base is not their rugby team, it is England wins.
The potential financial impact of a poor tour has never been bigger. With online interest and social media activity being entirely trackable, sponsors will be well aware of any drop in England’s ability to influence their market and will tighten their purse strings accordingly. It’s no better from a sporting standpoint, with the tour risking the loss of momentum generated by a Stuart Lancaster’s moulding of a team that demands respect for the right reasons.
One might not envy the All Blacks’ options of a hollow victory or a humiliating defeat, but what coach wouldn’t be happy with the chance to thrash the hosts of the next World Cup one year out from the tournament? Steve Hansen will gladly see his boys perpetuate the myth of their invincibility (although 30 straight home wins suggest it’s anything but a myth) and will be losing no sleep.
The loyalty shown by sports fans is something many companies are learning to harness positively in ways that benefit everyone involved. It is no longer prudent to take advantage of that loyalty and shovel out a sub-standard product. The circumstances surrounding the first test are disrespectful to England’s and New Zealand’s supporters, especially those travelling to the game and there has been no reduction in ticket prices to reflect the quality of the fare.
It is not an easy fix and there are myriad reasons as to why a simple solution has not been found. For example, July tests would look to suit everyone, but the minimum rest period agreed between the RFU and Premier Rugby would make the players unavailable for the start of the domestic season and that too would cause heated debate and cost a lot of money.
Meanwhile, much, unreasonably, has been made of the injuries to Corbisiero, Cole, Mako Vunipola and Webber. It might be getting to the stage where every stout-bodied Englishman under the age of 35 is waiting by the phone, but the root cause is just dumb luck and there will always be lads on the sidelines come the end of the domestic season.
New Zealand also have injuries to bemoan, with Dan Carter still out with an Achilles problem and their influential number 8 and World Player of the Year, Kieran Read, suffering concussion. Don’t, England fans, start counting your blessings, as Aaron Cruden is a real talent at 10 and Jerome Kaino is, quite simply, a monster.
It is, however, ridiculous to think that Lawes, Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Wood, Hartley, Burrell and several other potential first choice players will, by design, be sitting in the stand with Stuart Lancaster.
Large corporations’ sales and marketing campaigns are planned meticulously, ahead of time and with all available assets appropriately employed. By contrast, the current England tour just looks like terrible business sense.