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Rugby World Cup

All Blacks scrum with Hello Kitty to dominate business

New Zealand's rugby team pours ad revenues into further team building

The All Blacks perform the traditional Haka dance in Japan, a key element of the team's brand.

TOKYO -- From ice creams to luxury watches, the world's number one rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks, is happy to lend its brand power to boost product image.

Business revenue for the team has grown 80% in the last decade, and looks set to grow further, as the world champions in 2011 and 2015 look to capture their third consecutive crown at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

On Saturday, the team scored seven tries to defeat Ireland 46-14, advancing easily to the semifinals.

Perhaps not as well-known as its black uniform, is the large share of the revenue the team pours back into the community to promote the sport in New Zealand, which in turn breeds the next generation of rugby players.

Hello Kitty, one of the world's most recognizable brands, has taken the black. Sanrio has debuted an All Black Kitty, clad in a black rugby uniform and with a rugby ball in her hand. It was the All Blacks who approached the Japanese company, seeing the World Cup in Japan as a golden opportunity to expand the fan base there to women and children, who had not been big fans of the sport until now.

Fans prepare for a match in Yokohama on Sept. 21.

"Be it real estate or ice cream, it's important to expose the team in various markets," said Richard Thomas, chief commercial officer of New Zealand Rugby. The wide catalog of sponsors includes Swiss watchmaker Tudor, Japanese real estate company Mitsui Fudosan, Ford Motor, AIG and Adidas.

According to New Zealand Rugby's earnings report, total income for 2018 was $190 million New Zealand dollars ($121 million), an 80% increase from a decade ago. License fees from sponsors accounted for 35% of revenue.

The organization was established in 1892. Of the more than 500 matches it has gone through, the All Blacks command a towering near-80% win rate. But Thomas says that a major element of the All Blacks appeal is not only its strength but the respect the team pays to each opponent. At the World Cup, Japanese fans have been pleasantly surprised to see how New Zealand's players bow to the opposing team after matches.

The All Blacks take time out from the World Cup to pose for a New Zealand government advertisement in Chiba, Japan.

The team's signature Haka performance before games -- a traditional dance of the Maori people -- as well as the silver fern used in the team's emblem reflect how the team respects history.

"History and tradition are key elements of brand building, a staple method that luxury brands use," said Koji Matsushita, a professor at Japan's Chuo University Graduate school of strategic management. "The fact that they promote the team as a whole, rather than individual players, also reflects how they are protecting and passing down the brand."

Its popularity is expanding globally. While not a major sport in the U.S., the All Blacks see a potential to grow there, especially with the launch of Major League Rugby, a pro league, in 2017.

Thomas also sees the potential for rugby fever to persist in Japan after the World Cup. "We will expand matches and corporate sponsorships in Japan," he said, noting that the goal is to have 20% of global income come from Japan, as opposed to the 5% today.

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