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Money trail highlights home truths in value of Lions tours

Neil Francis


Tadhg Furlong. (Adam Davy/PA)

Tadhg Furlong. (Adam Davy/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

I have picked my Lions Test team on current form and suspect it will be a home victory in the series, though

I have picked my Lions Test team on current form and suspect it will be a home victory in the series, though

Tadhg Furlong. (Adam Davy/PA)

In February, 1990, James 'Buster' Douglas, a 42/1 outsider, floored Mike Tyson in Tokyo to produce the greatest upset in boxing history. A devastating uppercut followed by a sweetly-timed left to the head put Tyson on the floor and unable to manage his faculties.

However, the ignominy of losing three world heavyweight belts to a moderately talented nobody took second place to what happened after the fight was over.

Don King, who managed and promoted Tyson, jumped into the ring not to console his vanquished champion but to go directly to Douglas's corner and make his initial offer to the new heavyweight champion while Tyson was lying prone in his corner. If ever we were in doubt about boxing, this confirmed it. The number one rule in professional sport is 'follow the money'.

The Lions are scheduled to play an eight-match tour in South Africa in 2021. As we speak, the money is being divided out among all of the participants. It seems as if all the SANZAAR unions are in a perilous state.

The Lions, criticised in many quarters, will have the same effect as a defibrillator on whatever country they visit. In this instance the lucky recipient is South Africa.

When the Lions toured Australia in 2013, Rugby Australia were running affairs hamstrung with a deficit of A$12.2 million - 10 matches later and a flash of a fairy godmother's wand and suddenly they had A$40m in the bank.

Four years later New Zealand were the beneficiaries with a fillip of NZ$245m to their economy - a nice little boost to their GDP in 2017. New Zealand Rugby had lost NZ$7m in 2016 but posted a profit of NZ$33m in 2017. Normal service was resumed when they posted a loss of NZ$17m for year-end 2018.

Whenever any host country player is questioned about the Lions they will spout on about the heritage, prestige and fabled history of the Lions even though they have an 8 per cent win-rate against New Zealand and 31 per cent against South Africa.

The Lions lose, but say nothing and just follow the money. South Africa posted a loss of 62.4m Rand for 2017 but took some corrective action in 2018 and made a small 2.3 million Rand profit.

It is so much more than a gentleman's agreement that the host country pockets all the income from the tour - less logistics and accommodation costs. If the Lions asked for a percentage of that take then I suspect that when the All Blacks, Boks and Wallabies tour in November they would expect the same.

The share of the pot will stay the same even though what the Lions bring is infinitely superior in terms of turnover. On that basis the Lions have to get active on their own income-producing initiatives.

The costs are high mainly due to the fact that the bloody players have to get paid which is a bit of a nuisance! In 2017, all 41 players got a tour fee of £70k plus bonuses. Considering the tour went well you would think that they all went home with close to £100k, including coaches and staff - no change from £4m.

Sponsorship accounts for nearly 70 per cent of all Lions revenue. The pickings are good though; in 2013 HSBC paid £5m to have their name on the Lions jersey. In 2017 Standard Life ponied up £7.3m for the privilege.

You would have to assume that if that is to continue for the South African tour then the price will only go one way.

In terms of a divvy for the four 'home' unions it is hardly worth their while, it seems, to hand over their best players and have them get injured or take the best part of the next season to recover or find their form.

CSM Sport and Entertainment have been brought in to increase the revenue streams available to the Lions. Negotiations are ongoing - they will earn their fee if they can pass the revenue streams of 2017.

A mooted decider of the 2017 series in Twickenham against the All Blacks would be a fantastic money-spinner. The Lions are a rare commodity this side of the equator too.

Whatever about the money element, the actual rugby will be tough and Warren Gatland will need to pull yet another rabbit out of the hat. What sort of a Test team will he produce and how will the Irish do?

Predicting a Test team a year in advance is always an act of folly but in the current climate...

I think from a year out the Lions are going to struggle for two specialist positions - scrum-half and hooker. If the Lions could borrow Antoine Dupont and Julien Marchand from the French they would be sorted.

I have picked my Lions Test team on current form and suspect it will be a home victory in the series, though.

Belfast Telegraph