British and Irish Lions are rugby's greatest franchise – but do their results matter?

Jo Robinson
Follow Jo
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions - First Test Match
The Lions lost the first Test against the All Blacks 30-15 on Saturday (Source: Getty)

We have finally arrived at one of the most keenly anticipated sporting events of 2017: three mouth-watering encounters between the British and Irish Lions and the legendary All Blacks.

It will generate Sky Sports’ biggest audience outside of football and the famous red jersey will be the best-selling rugby kit ever sold. It will be a major topic of conversation for sports fans up and down the country, many of whom will be in a pub at 8.30am for three Saturdays in a row, while receiving the sort of newspaper column inches normally reserved for national events.

Meanwhile, in a sponsorship market with plenty of high-profile, unsold properties, especially in rugby, the Lions are thriving, with a full roster of 16 principle partners, sponsors, regional sponsors and suppliers.

But why? On the face of it, it all seems crazy.

From a purely sporting perspective, the Lions are not even particularly successful. In fact, out of the 108 games they have played against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia over their illustrious 129 years, they have won just 40. A 36 per cent win rate hardly puts them in the Super Team category.

Read more: Martin Johnson: Losing a Lions series rankles for years

And their odds of success in the current series are surely even smaller than that, following yesterday's 30-15 defeat in the first Test. The All Blacks are the winners of the last two World Cups and might be the best side to ever play the game. This Lions team, by contrast, only came together for their first training session 40 days ago.

From a logical perspective, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.

But that’s the thing with the Lions – logic has nothing to do with it. They are magical. And that is the thing that fans and sponsors buy into.

In a saturated sporting landscape, it is the scarcity of a Lions tour that increases its value. Seeing players who are used to taking chunks out of each other every Saturday during the RBS Six Nations come together to form something special is as enticing as it is uniting. This is especially true for the UK, which is used to being split along strict national sporting lines.

The Lions also represent the purest of values. They offer a sense of legacy, tradition and romanticism long lost in the sea of endless professional rugby, which gives brands plenty of opportunity to highlight their shared values. Standard Life Investments’ advertising campaign uses the Lions to tell their own story of teamwork, performance and commitment, while QBE is focusing on “the team behind the team”.

For fans, the tour burns brightly, but for a short period of time (gone are the days when it lasted for months). However, for brands, the marketing window started as early as the head coach announcement last October, which prompted five days of national media coverage.

Standard Life Investments kicked off their campaign in November and had already seen a positive shift in brand metrics as a result of the partnership, before a single point was scored.

Canterbury’s campaign enticed fans to purchase the jersey in November, by challenging them not to touch it until the squad was announced in April. It became their fastest-selling jersey of all time.

All of this means that the strength of the Lions' brand transcends how many points are scored on the other side of the world. It is a beacon of wonderful positivity in a serious sporting world dominated by results and league position – it is no surprise brands are queuing up to be involved.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles