SYDNEY – Rugby Australia’s brittle finances suffered a major blow on Wednesday when naming sponsor Qantas announced they would be ending their 30-year association with the game at the end of this year.
The Australian airline has been seeking significant cost savings across the board as it battles with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and said it had reviewed all of its sports sponsorships.
Qantas, who local media reports suggest have been spending up to A$20 million a year on sports sponsorships, said they would continue to support Cricket Australia and Football Federation Australia for another year on a non-cash basis only.
Qantas had held the naming rights for the Wallabies since 2004, except during World Cup tournaments where regulations forbid such sponsorships.
An industry source familiar with the deal, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said it was valued at as much as A$5 million ($3.57 million) a year, including in-kind contributions such as flights.
Rugby Australia, who were already struggling financially before the coronavirus pandemic heavily disrupted their revenue stream, said the decision was “disappointing” but “understandable” in the current environment.
“There aren’t many 30-year partnerships in Australian sport, and I want to thank Qantas for everything they have done for our great game,” said interim chief executive Rob Clarke.
Meanwhile, Michael Hooper will lead the Wallabies out for his 100th test next month after new Australia coach Dave Rennie announced on Wednesday the 28-year-old would retain the captaincy for this season.
Rennie, who on Tuesday oversaw his first training session since taking over from Michael Cheika last year, had previously declined to confirm the openside flanker in the position he has held since 2014.
Hooper has played 46 tests as captain, including through two World Cup campaigns, and while no one would question his work rate or commitment, his on-field judgement and ability to get on with referees have been criticised at times.
“I’ve been really impressed with Hoops,” Rennie said in a news release.
“We’ve spoken a lot over the past nine months and it’s highlighted his passion and commitment. He’s a good man with an outstanding work ethic and he’s a great role model for our young men coming through.
“In the end his appointment was a straightforward decision.”