Fly-on-the-wall first for Lions and South Africa
The British and Irish Lions and South Africa have struck a groundbreaking deal to allow film crews to make a fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring footage from inside both camps for the first time during next year’s tour.
The video diary of the Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 remains one of the most iconic sports documentaries, and both parties hope that this new joint-venture could land a lucrative broadcasting deal.
Amazon Prime has already entered the rugby market with a production of New Zealand’s season in 2017, while The Last Dance, Netflix’s story of Michael Jordan’s basketball career in the Nineties, has been one of the hit shows of the year.
Lions insiders are hoping the documentary could help cover the costs of the tour, which are expected to be about £18million at a time when rugby’s finances are under strain because of Covid-19.
Video diaries of Lions series since 1997 have failed to replicate the commercial success of the original, but it is hoped the inside story of the tour from the perspective of Warren Gatland’s squad and Jacques Nienaber’s world champions will prove a hit.
It is understood the deal is part of a historic commercial partnership struck between the Lions and the South African Rugby Union.
The traditional financial model of tours has been ripped up and the joint venture will mean the Lions will rely less heavily on sponsorship and will instead receive additional revenue streams from broadcast rights, ticketing, hospitality and licensing.
It will give brands a ring-fenced sponsorship environment, as for a World Cup or the Olympics, with the expectation that it would generate greater revenue for the Lions and their hosts.
The Lions have previously secured their own sponsorship deals, with Standard Life paying about £6.25 million for front-of-shirt rights on the tour of New Zealand in 2017.
The Lions commercial team for the tour of New Zealand attracted the support of 18 companies, which ensured it returned a profit of more than £7 million, shared between the four home unions.
Even in a pandemic, the new model is expected to deliver a significant uplift on 2017 values for the Lions and South Africa.
Previously, the range of backers, aside from the big-ticket items of kit and shirt sponsor, has varied from male grooming products to alcoholic drinks and recruitment consultancy services.
The Lions also generate income from the sales of tour packages to the expected total of 30,000 supporters who will travel to South Africa. Close to half buy packages from Lions Rugby Travel, the inhouse travel operator.
Before 1991, no tour had made a profit for the British and Irish Lions, the wholly owned subsidiary of the four home unions, but the tour to South Africa in 2009 was the first commercial success.
Inside story: Will Greenwood in action during the Lions tour to South Africa in 1997, which was covered in an iconic sports documentary