The new naming sponsor for New Zealand Rugby's provincial competition has been confirmed this afternoon at press conference, with hardware retail giant Bunnings the new name all over the domestic market.
After the new sponsorship was essentially revealed prematurely with an early update of the old Mitre 10 Cup website, NZR confirmed domestic rugby in New Zealand would now fall under the Bunnings Warehouse Provincial Rugby banner.
“The past year has provided us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on our priorities and in Bunnings we have found a partner who shares our goal of putting rugby at the heart of every community," NZR CEO Mark Robinson said.
“We are thrilled to have a partner who wants to help us grow the game and support the pathways that give the talented young people in our clubs the opportunity to represent their communities whether it’s through the NPC, the Farah Palmer Cup, Super Rugby Aotearoa Under 20s or the Heartland Championship."
The new three-year sponsorship gives Bunnings naming sponsor rights to the men's provincial competition, which has returned to being the NPC after being the ITM Cup and Mitre 10 Cup in recent times.
Bunnings will also be naming rights sponsor for the Farah Palmer Cup, Heartland Championship and the Super Rugby Aotearoa under-20s after Mitre 10, the last main sponsor of domestic rugby, saw its five-year deal run out this year.
Mitre 10 took over sponsorship in 2016 from another hardware company, ITM.
The sponsorship was announced at a "special announcement" in Auckland this afternoon, despite fans and media alike initially hoping the press conference would be about developments in the potential deal with US private equity firm Silver Lake.
Bunnings' sponsorship comes after the retailer closed 10 stores in the last 18 months, resulting in over 150 jobs lost. The retailer cited Covid-19 as a "major factor" for the closures, but also listed lease arrangement and store performance as other reasons.
Earlier this week, Robinson confirmed the competition's current format — which features a premiership and championship with a promotion-relagation system — would remain in place for 2021 despite a recent review into provincial rugby, known as the Nga Miro report, recommending changes.
“We had looked at a range of different options around a potential conference model, and when we socialised that with some key stakeholders they expressed a view in terms of how late we were getting in the overall nature of the change, that they want more time to consider that. So we’ve pushed that back to being considered for 2022 onwards,” Robinson said.
“The reality is change in rugby and across all stakeholder organisations is tough, working to tight time frames, and in an incredibly uncertain environment as well.”
One format reportedly being considered is a North-South format to reduce travel costs significantly for unions after the financial hit they took in 2020 from the global pandemic.