Johannesburg - The Golden Lions success in 2014 has finally brought them on a par with their more affluent rivals.
According to the supersport.com website, the Lions are set to announce a partnership with global airline icon Emirates and two other sponsors on Thursday.
After spending a year in the Super Rugby wilderness, Johan Ackermann’s team has literally fought their way out of a precarious position where the Lions were struggling both in terms of playing personnel and money and now are in a position where they can start competing on an equal footing with other Super Rugby sides.
Lions president Kevin de Klerk and CEO Rudolf Straeuli will announce the deal with Emirates to be the chief sponsor for the next five years in a deal that also includes the naming rights to the iconic Ellis Park stadium.
Emirates’ corporate colours are red and white and thus a perfect fit for the Lions, as they join a massive sponsorship family for the Airline, who also sponsor the ICC Cricket umpires, English premiership club Arsenal, World Rugby’s Referees association and are one of the global sponsors for the Rugby World Cup next year. Emirates are also global Formula one partners and sponsor no less than 15 international golfing tournaments.
The five-year sponsorship is a unique one, as the norm is three years for most sponsors, allowing Emirates to invest in the Lions for the long term.
The Lions were without a sponsor for the 2014 Super Rugby series but will also announce on Thursday that Chinese mobile phone company Huawei will become a major sponsor of the team as well.
Huawei are well known for their mobile and 3g devices and are one of the fastest growing Chinese companies in the world at the moment.
A third sponsor, who will have a lesser role in the team, will also be announced on Thursday, with speculation that one of the Lions current sponsors in the Currie Cup could extend their role into Super Rugby as well.
The Lions will, however, not be going on a shopping spree after the announcements, as they have already decided rather to use the money within their current squad and make limited acquisitions where necessary.
Under the tutelage of Ackermann, the Lions have literally risen from the ashes, and have produced Springboks in Warren Whiteley and Julian Redelinghuys this year and Bok tourists in Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronje and Ruan Dreyer.
The Lions have been quietly snapping up other unions’ discards as well, including Bulls and Springbok Sevens flyer Sampie Mastriet and SA under-20 midfielder Ruhan Janse van Rensburg.
While Emirates will be welcomed aboard, as will Huawei, it will be interesting to see if the sponsors name is simply added to the Ellis Park stadium brand or if the Lions remove the original name completely, as they did a few years ago when it became Coca Cola Park.