Lions will be Australia's cash cow
The British and Irish Lions tour to Australia next year is set to generate up to AU$300-million for the local economy.
The British and Irish Lions tour to Australia next year is set to generate up to AU$300-million for the local economy, says Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive John O'Neill.
The Lions will play nine matches in Australia, including a three-Test series with the Wallabies and O'Neill said the ARU had already received about 26,000 enquiries about ticket packages.
O'Neill was speaking at a Sydney media conference with Lions tour manager Andy Irvine almost a year out from the first Test between the Wallabies and Lions at Suncorp Stadium on June 22 next year.
"The British and Irish Lions tour to Australia next year will be massive," O'Neill said.
"Behind the World Cup, there is no bigger event in international Rugby."
Irvine said discussions were continuing with Six Nations-winning Welsh coach Warren Gatland about leading the Lions on the tour.
O'Neill also revealed a personal dream to have a combined Australia and New Zealand team play the Lions in 2015 to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli conflict in World War 1.
He also floated the possibility of a SANZAR - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - team playing the Lions in 2015 following the World Cup.
The ARU said it is preparing to launch a One Year countdown to next year's long-awaited three-Test series between the Wallabies and the B&I Lions.
One of the most iconic sporting teams in the world, the Lions are drawn from the best players in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland and tour Australia just once every 12 years.
Never playing at home, and only assembled for overseas visits, the Lions travel to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on a rotational basis every four year and take with them a passionate supporter base numbering in its tens of thousands.
"The Lions are steeped in history and I'm sure Sydney fans will relish the chance to see them," O'Neill added.
"It was in Sydney where the 2001 tour was decided.
"After the Lions won the first Test and the Wallabies the second, it came down to the final match of the tour at Homebush - and what a titanic contest it was.
"The Wallabies won that night and added another triumph to what was already a Golden Era for the game in this country.
"With that series win, the Wallabies had possession of the Rugby World Cup, the Bledisloe Cup and the Tom Richards Trophy for beating the Lions.
"Looking back on 2001, it was a wonderful tour. The Lions brought with them their Sea of Red, and it was a supporter base of the like we have never seen in this country.
"Lions supporters were extremely vocal - singing and chanting throughout the Tests. Their passion was infectious.
"The first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane was phenomenal - and red was the dominant colour in the grandstands.
"ARU moved quickly to ensure that didn't happen again for the remainder of the Test series. We started a ‘Be Bold Wear Gold' campaign and introduced it at the second Test in Melbourne.
"It was the first time we had made a conscious attempt to have Australian crowds show their true colours during a game, and the fans responded magnificently.
"That tour was unforgettable, the crowd in Sydney also turned out in gold en masse, and the Wallabies won the series by two Tests to one.
"We expect the 2013 Tour to be even bigger and better."
The Lions will play all five Australian Super Rugby franchises - the Force, Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and Rebels - along with the combined NSW-Queensland Country team and three Test matches in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
"It is a series that is already highly anticipated," said the Lions tour Manager, Irvine - also a former Scottish and Lions Test fullback.
"Our plan is to ensure we are completely prepared for the tour and that we put in place an environment that will mean the Lions have every opportunity to be successful next year.
"It is just fantastic that the Lions concept has stood the test of time, taken on and embraced the professional era and emerged stronger and more popular than ever.
"The level of support the Lions enjoy from their supporters is unprecedented and the Lions are probably the best supported team in world Rugby.
"It is a unique concept in world sport and one hell of a challenge, one that sees a combined team playing against some of the strongest teams in the world every four years on a tour away from home.
"Yet the players cherish the opportunity and those selected consider it the ultimate accolade in their playing career.
"The Lions are a very proud team with a unique ethos and a wonderful history, and the famous red shirt is synonymous with such a challenge and in 2013 that challenge is Australia and the Wallabies, one of the best teams in world Rugby.
"But it is a challenge that the players relish and one that they will look forward to."
B&I Lions tour schedule:
Wednesday, June 5: v Western Force, Perth
Saturday, June 8: v Queensland Reds, Brisbane
Wednesday, June 12: v Combined NSW-Qld Country, Newcastle
Saturday, June 15: v NSW Waratahs, Sydney
Tuesday, June 18: v Brumbies, Canberra
Saturday, June 22: FIRST TEST, Brisbane
Tuesday, June 25: v Melbourne Rebels, Melbourne
Saturday, June 29: SECON TEST, Melbourne
Saturday, July 6: THIRD TEST, Sydney