Rugby World Cup – What does it mean for brands?

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup, how can brands engage sporting fans?

By Dexter Tate | August 14th, 2015

 

In the UK we are fortunate to play host to some of the world’s greatest sporting events and leagues and it can be easy to become complacent as a sport fan as to just how lucky we are.

The UK is home to the Premier League, Wimbledon, The Open Championships and enjoyed huge success around the 2012 Olympic Games so we can be forgiven for somewhat casting a shadow over the 1991 Rugby World Cup which was the last truly global sporting event we had hosted with some degree of success.

On the eve of the 2015 Rugby World Cup we think it’s time to celebrate one of the largest sporting competitions on the planet coming to our shores. So far fans and the media could be guilty of a general feeling of indifference or apathy towards the World Cup because we’ve done it all before – no big deal – but brands here in the UK should not be fooled and see this as a huge opportunity.

With over 2.45 million tickets sold, this World Cup has already cemented its place as the most supported in history. In fact, according to a recent TGI survey there are 10.1 million adult fans of rugby in the UK, with the majority of these fans labelled as ABC1 – a highly appealing and typically expensive demographic for brands to communicate with.

So with just under 50 days until kick-off, there is still time for brands to get involved and develop ways to engage with what will undoubtable be the biggest and most talked about sporting event of the year.

The Official Sponsors have already started their campaigns – Coca Cola are working with World Cup Winners Jason Robinson and Natasha Hunt to launch their biggest ever rugby promotion to encourage participation, while Land Rover are emphasising their grassroots involvement and flair for the dramatic through ambassador led video content and high impact stunts.

Additionally, Emirates Airlines are recruiting for official flag bearers and looking to fuel social engagement, while Heineken have recently announced that they are pushing half of their annual marketing budget into the six week event, creating a global campaign featuring Jonah Lomu and John Smit, and launching a Heineken Rugby Studio at Twickenham to produce preview and review shows featuring Will Greenwood.

Home nation sponsors arguably need to work harder to cement their association when the games kick off as, due to tournament rules, all shirts that the players run out onto the pitch wearing must be clean of sponsor branding. This has big implications for those brands who have spent big budgets to secure front of shirt sponsorships.

O2, arguably one of England’s most successful rugby sponsors of the last twenty years, will be one such brand whose logo will be wiped from the front of beloved England shirt it usually adorns when the players run out on 18 September.

However, so ingrained is O2’s longstanding association with England Rugby that the tangible and intangible benefits will continue, even throughout enforced black-out periods. Case and point – despite a lack of visual exposure on the 15 England shirts on the pitch, O2 will continue to reap the rewards through branding that will be plastered around the stadiums in the form of thousands of England fans wearing O2 branded replica kits across England.

The brands #Weartherose campaign has been a clever way for the brand to not only tap into the emotional passion of the fans to get behind their team but also ensure that 80,000 fans at Twickenham will be wearing their branded replica shirts. Dove and BMW are more England team sponsors who have been building their rugby fanbase and will continue to do so over the next eight weeks.

It is that longevity of association which will help brands like O2 develop the most genuine credibility and authenticity and not lose out to tournament sponsors with bigger wallets.

Official sponsors of AVIVA Premiership Rugby will also have opportunities to communicate to fans and potentially capitalise on a wealth of new fans of the game. Using their earned credibility through existing Premiership assets – club player imagery and content – with an intelligent and planned approach can reap great rewards throughout key moments of the tournament.

For brands not already involved in rugby, hope is not lost. As the 2014 FIFA World Cup proved, brands can make an impact without securing any official rights, but reaction time is key.

“There is always a big spike in conversation and engagement when major events like the World Cup come around”, says Misha Sher, Head of EMEA at MediaCom Sport.

“The most successful brands plan their content strategy well in advance, often anticipating the big moments to put themselves at the heart of the conversation.”

With so little time before the tournament begins, official rights will be difficult to secure, but intelligent strategic planning and creative execution can result in memorable impact, sometimes better than the sponsors themselves.

Last year MediaCom Sport worked with Subway to develop their football campaign featuring Pele and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Despite not being an official sponsor, through tactical media placements and an ongoing association with the Brazilian football legend, Subway were the most effective brand to increase their awareness, usurping the official sponsors such as competitors McDonald’s, MasterCard, and Samsung.

London 2012 was a success because is engaged with every single Briton in some way, and brands would be foolish not to expect similar results next month when one of the world’s truly great sporting events kicks off – as World Rugby say  themselves, this tournament really will be “Too Big To Miss”.


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