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The Virgin Money London Marathon continues to set the pace, but are brands running in the right direction?

The world of endurance events has surely never been more popular. The array of opportunities for amateur athletes to challenge themselves appears almost endless, with mud runs, team obstacle courses, duathlons, triathlons and increasingly challenging bike rides all on offer to those seeking a slightly different way to unwind from the working week. Yet amongst the admittedly impressive new kids on the block stands possibly the greatest event of them all – the Virgin Money London Marathon.

 

Founded in its modern incarnation in 1981 by former Olympian Chris Brasher, the London Marathon has grown year-on-year to become one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles and a Mecca for amateur runners looking to test themselves against the world elite.

In 2016, a record 247,069 people applied to take part in the 26.2 mile race, proving once again that the race holds a special appeal to people from all over the globe. However, it’s not just runners that the race attracts, and with huge participant numbers, close to 1 million on-course spectators and live coverage on BBC One, the London Marathon is as coveted by brands as it is those seeking a prized finisher’s medal.

 

Title sponsor Virgin Money aside, some of the world’s biggest brands are already aligned with the event. Long-term partners such as Renault, Buxton Water and Runner’s World have been joined by more recent additions Tata Consultancy and Tag Heuer. This sees Tag, in particular, continue to add to their impressive portfolio of marathon partnerships, neatly tying in with their #DontCrackUnderPressure campaign.

The dedication, commitment and sheer force of personality required to complete a marathon creates a rich platform for brands to tell their own story through the narrative of any of the thousands of runners and, whether it’s the first timer or the seasoned elite, brands can pick and choose the story they want to align with.

So the attraction is there and the story is positive, but are brands missing a trick? According to the London Marathon website, more than 100,000 women have applied to run the 2016 race, while back in 1981 just 300 of the 7,747 finishers were women. A shift that whilst obviously reflecting a wider change in the sporting landscape also presents insightful brands with the opportunity to speak to huge female audience that is both incredibly engaged and perhaps more importantly – over a prolonged period of time.

Yet how many of the 2016 race sponsors are doing so? Renault and London Pride have continued to play it safe, with roaming Twingo test drive opportunities and Tim Peake inspired spaced stunts respectively. Awareness driving perhaps, engaging a targeted audience however – certainly not. Buxton’s #NaturalHeroes campaign does at least provide a more integrated execution, delivering across digital and experiential to offer friends and families the chance to run alongside their loved ones.

Still, no current sponsor is speaking to or even trying to reach the female audience that so clearly exists. Sportswear giants Nike and Under Armour are currently leading the way with female-focused marketing campaigns which, according to Chris Carroll, Under Armour’s former EMEA Head of Marketing. are about “mind, body and spirit” making women feel better, not just physically, but also mentally.

Giesele-Under-Armor

It is this change in thinking that could so easily be applied by the right sponsor to the London Marathon. The natural narrative of the race and each of its runners provides the perfect chance for brands to speak to women in the way that frontrunners like Nike and Under Armour already are. The story can still be about dedication and hard work, but it’s no longer simply about the physical benefits but the mental ones too…and surely there’s no event more suited to doing this than the London Marathon?

The runners might be setting the pace, but it’s time for the brands to catch up.

By on April 22nd, 2016

Tags: Athlete Endorsement, Athletics, BBC, Brand Engagement, Brand marketing, Default, Event management service, Experiential marketing, Female Sport, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Women's Sport

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Synergy Bags Beko’s Barcelona Brief

We are thrilled to officially announce our appointment by Beko to activate their sponsorship of FC Barcelona.

Featured in Sports Industry today, read the full article here.

By on April 12th, 2016

Tags: Digital sponsorship consultants, Digital sponsorship strategy, Football Sponsorship, Football Sponsorship Consultants, Press Clipping, Social media sponsorship consultants, Social media sponsorship strategy, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Synergy

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The Next Big Evolution In Rugby World Cup Sponsorship

Committed To Japan

Japanese brands have history with the Rugby World Cup. Attracted by a big Japanese TV deal, in 1987 they accounted for almost all of the handful of sponsors of the first tournament. I suspect we will see something similar when we get to RWC 2019. Except there will be more Japanese sponsors – a lot more.

Well before Japan’s electrifying performances in the current RWC, Japan 2019 was always going to be a safe sponsorship bet for World Rugby.

First, there’s the size and strength of the Japanese economy – the world’s third largest, much bigger than any of the Tier 1 rugby countries.

Next, as I wrote at the time, back in 2013 when Tokyo won the right to stage the 2020 Olympics it had the unintended consequence of making Rugby World Cup sponsorship more strategically attractive, especially to Olympic sponsors and to their rivals.

Then there’s the way that Corporate Japan has got behind Tokyo 2020. Tokyo was clearly a big factor in Panasonic and Toyota agreeing huge new global sponsorships with the IOC. And Tokyo is on course to achieve the most successful domestic sponsorship sales programme in Olympic history.

And all this was before Japan’s three breakthrough RWC 2015 wins, which have created unquestionably the marketing factoid of this Rugby World Cup.

The total cumulative TV audience in Japan for the whole of RWC 2011 was just under 25 million. Whereas the live TV audience in Japan just for the Japan v Samoa RWC 2015 match was 25 million.

Zilch to 25 million. Zilch to 20 per cent of the Japanese population. Zilch to a world record national viewing audience for rugby.

I think that’s what they call growth.

Japan fans

No surprise then that Brett Gosper, World Rugby’s CEO, said last week that for RWC 2019 World Rugby “will make some adjustments to allow more local brands to take part [as sponsors]…ones that sit well with our global partners.”

Whether this means an increase in some or all of the four current tiers of RWC sponsorship remains to be seen.

But I suspect the question is not how many Japanese brands will be sponsors of Japan 2019, but whether there’ll be any space left for anyone else.

By on October 28th, 2015

Tags: IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup 2015, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Television audiences, Tokyo 2020

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Tokyo 2020 logo fiasco provides lesson in due diligence for sports marketers

“With so many potent learnings, it’s fair to say that Tokyo 2020’s decision last week to scrap its event logo was relatively shocking” Synergy’s Insights Director, Jon Izzard, speaks to City A.M about some of the key lessons learnt after the Tokyo 2020 logo fiasco.  Read it here.

By on September 9th, 2015

Tags: Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Press Clipping, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy, Tokyo 2020

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Valuing Rugby World Cup 2015 Sponsorship: A 5-Step Guide to Sponsorship Event Measurement

It’s not long now until Rugby World Cup 2015 kicks-off and sponsors start to see a significant return on investment…

…at least that’s what they hope.

If you already know whether their event sponsorship endeavors will be likened to a World Cup win or group-stage knockout then you can stop reading now. Otherwise, this 5-step guide to sponsorship event measurement should help you understand how to deliver, measure and evaluate a high-ROI event sponsorship of any scale.

RWC Image 2

So, using Rugby World Cup 2015 as a case study, let’s outline an approach which could help…

RWC Partners Image

By the way, this guide brings to bear much of the thinking already shared in the Synergy Decisions white paper.

Step 1: Understand the Pathways to Value

In the context of event sponsorship and Rugby World Cup 2015, this means understanding that the event could deliver value through different Pathways. Brands like Canterbury and Heineken will have similar rights, but will be using them to deliver different objectives. The rights will drive different levels of value accordingly.

That said, let’s consider some of the Pathways through which Heineken could drive value:

  1. B2C Brand Awareness (e.g.pitch-side branding to reach a global audience via extensive TV coverage)
  2. B2B Hospitality (e.g. hosting and building relationships with trade contacts to increase listings in the on and off trade)
  3. Data Capture (e.g. recording fan contact details through at-event activations)
  4. Experiential (e.g. campaigns to connect with fans at the stadium)
  5. Pouring rights (e.g. increased sales at all 48 matches at the expense of competitors such as Guinness)

Heineken Experience

Step 2: Identify the Value Drivers for Each Pathway

This is crucial. Rugby World Cup 2015 sponsors must know which metrics influence how much value is being created within each specific pathway. Sponsors should ask whether their value drivers are, for example:

  1. Talking to business customers – If so, how many do we need in our hospitality suite at each match? Of the business clients who join, what share do we want to be “high” value? Of those who are “high” value, how many do we need to convert into sales?
  2. Data capture – If so, how many details do we need to collect at each match? How many are attending each match? What is the likelihood that a new contact converts to a sale? What is the value of that sale? How quickly do we need to follow up?
  3. Maximizing at-event sales – If so, how many sales do we need to make? Where can we sell at the ground and how many sales staff can we deploy? At what cost?
  4. Etc. … (In the interest of time I’ll refrain from listing the 30+ different Value Drivers we’ve worked on at Synergy over the last year, but you get the idea!)

The earlier brands map out these questions, the easier it’ll be to:

  • •  find where and how value could be created pre-campaign
  • •  change course and track progress during-campaign
  • •  evaluate performance post-campaign

Step 3: Build a Model

Having successfully navigated Step 2, it’s time to enter Excel and use the value drivers to create a model which helps us understand the value created within each Pathway. Let’s say that Heineken, for example, is trying to understand the Data Capture Pathway. The global beer brand’s model could be structured to make calculations using inputs like:

  • •  # matches at which we have experiential rights
  • •  # attendees (by match)
  • •  % attendees engaged in experiential
  • •  % attendees engaged who share data / contact details
  • •  % post-match contacts converted to sale
  • •  £ lifetime value of average contact converted to sale

Step 4: Find the Best Possible Inputs and Assumptions

With a strong Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3 in support, finding and measuring the metrics that matter should feel less like a scrum and more like a kick from under the posts. Whether it be through consumer surveys, brand trackers, data records on the ground, web analytics, or a combination of all of the above, the key to sponsorship measurement is inputs and assumptions you can adjust but believe in.

Dan Carter

With our Heineken / Data Capture example in mind, imagine that they have one pop-up activation per match. Heineken could then track performance through, for example, conducting consumer surveys at each of the 48 Rugby World Cup 2015 matches.

Step 5: Interrogate the Model

Once the detail is done and dusted, better decisions can be made more easily with the help of a user-friendly dashboard, which could look something like:

Dashboard2

As any Rugby World Cup-winning team will tell you, most of the hard work is done before the main event. Tough questions are asked, different tactics tested and weights lifted before the Final event itself.

Likewise, sponsorship event measurement must be grounded in strategic analysis ahead of time, and a commitment made to analyse and gather the necessary data to find scenarios, sensitivities and breakeven points. With a clear sense of how to drive maximum value, CMOs and Sponsorship Managers alike can send staff out onto the marketing field-of-play confident their team will perform.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick guide on how to take a more structured approach to understanding the value of event sponsorship. If you’d like to talk in more detail feel free to email me at chris.pinner@synergy-sponsorship.com.

By on July 14th, 2015

Tags: Measurement, Rightsholders, Rugby, Rugby World Cup, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship asset valuation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship effectiveness, Sponsorship measurement, Sponsorship valuation, Sport, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship

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Rio 2016: Another Missed Opportunity For Brazilian Sports Marketing?

by Guilherme Guimarães

When Rio de Janeiro was bidding to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a big question mark from the market in awarding Brazil with a mega sporting event so soon after the football World Cup was the appetite for Games sponsorship of the Brazilian market. Many questioned the country’s ability to attract local partners for the Games in competition with the marketing appeal of Brazil’s national obsession – a point that the Rio bid team had to address in particular during the evaluation process.

Ultimately, despite the expectations raised by Rio’s big first deals with Bradesco and Embratel-Claro, Rio 2016 didn’t keep pace with London 2012 in signing sponsors and is way behind Tokyo 2020. With Brazil’s economy in crisis and the Petrobras scandal raging, Rio 2016 could hardly have a tougher sell, but their PR remains upbeat and rumours of last-minute sponsorships occasionally surface.

As Brazilians know, when it comes to Rio 2016, sponsorship deals are not the only things being left to the last minute. And we are not talking about stadium construction, transport infrastructure and airport expansion. We have yet to see consistent, innovative, bold in-country activation from Rio 2016′s sponsors, which is puzzling, since it’s really difficult to generate meaningful ROI from something as big as an Olympic sponsorship in just one year (or less) of activation.

Who’s been active?

In short, very few.

The most active Rio 2016 sponsors to date are Bradesco and Nissan, who have both run Olympic-themed ads.

Bradesco is using its various sponsorships of Olympic sports to launch a series of events named the BRA Challenges, that use the correspondence of the first three letters of the bank’s and the country‘s name to create a sense of backing for Team Brazil.

GG1

GG2

GG£

 The coincidence is also being extensively explored in a series of ads such as this:

Nissan also made some noise right after signing as Rio 2016′s official automotive partner, launching its team of athletes. However, after using Usain Bolt’s visit to Brazil to leverage its Olympic and Paralympic association, Nissan has done little beyond this very generic ad:

Correios (the Brazilian government-owned post office) joined the line up of sponsors this year, but despite being late to the party has already released Rio 2016′s official stamps, as well as this ad:

 Another missed opportunity?

Originally seen as a turning point for the Brazilian sports marketing industry, it seems Rio 2016, like the FIFA World Cup, will see another potentially game-changing opportunity come and go. Instead, Brazilian sports marketing has become famous yet again in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons.

Sponsorship in Brazil is still all about rights acquisition rather than strategic marketing. Activation remains limited in concept, creativity and execution, and Rio 2016′s local sponsors are following this path.

Recently, the results of the first ticket ballot were released. Again, no Brazilian brands were prominently active. Today it’s Olympic Day and the One Year To Go mark is fast approaching. Will we see more Brazilian sponsors finally step up to the mark? Only time will tell. But let’s hope so.

Guilherme is the founder and General Manager of Ativa Esporte, the Brazilian sports marketing consultancy which is Synergy’s partner in Brazil.

By on June 23rd, 2015

Tags: Brazil 2014, Default, London 2012, London 2012 sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Paralympic Sponsorship, Paralympics, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Sponsorship consultancy, Tokyo 2020, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Sponsorship Valuation: Standing up for the Sponsors  

Sponsorship valuation is driven by rightsholders. The simple fact is that they tend to be the ones paying for the analysis, and whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

It makes complete sense for the rightsholders to be leading this particular charge. They have sponsorship properties to create and sell. They not only need to know where to price them but also need to be able to justify that price during the sales process.

A whole industry has grown around this proposition. In fact, just yesterday ESP Properties, a new “super-agency” born out of IEG, GroupM and Two Circles was formed to focus on exactly this. They will be taking the fight to IMG, CAA, Wasserman, Repucom and the many others who all have their sights trained firmly on this space.

There is no doubt that these are all great agencies doing some pretty sophisticated things to help rightsholders better understand and maximise the amount of money they can command for their sponsorship properties on the open market. Because, at the end of the day, the value of a sponsorship property from the rightsholder’s perspective is the same as the value of a house: it is worth what someone is willing to pay for it…and you only need one party to be willing to pay that. Effectively that means that rightsholder consultants are like estate agents, helping the rightsholders determine the “list price” based on market benchmarks and the property’s features (rights) and helping them find a buyer.

Estate agents boards offer property in Brighton

But in this rush to help the rightsholders monetise their properties, who is helping brands understand the value of their sponsorship, independently and without any conflicts of interest?

This is particularly important, because, as we argued in our Synergy Decisions White Paper, a sponsorship does have a real, economic value to the sponsor: the increase in the company’s value as a result of increased revenue or decrease costs.  But this value is entirely contextual of the sponsor and their activation campaign.

To put it bluntly, the exact same sponsorship property with the same basic rights would have a completely different value to Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, P&G, Samsung, Panasonic, Visa, Toyota, Bridgestone, Omega, GE, Dow, Atos.  That’s because each of those companies has different business models, audiences, products, routes-to-market, marketing channels, purchase drivers and competitive environments.

Further, the exact same property would be worth a different amount to the same brand depending on how effectively they activated it. For example, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that the London Cycle Hire scheme could have been worth far more to Barclays (and no doubt will be worth far more to Santander) had they done more with it.

The challenge for brands is to determine the economic value their sponsorship does or could create. And this requires a completely different approach to the one that rightsholders use – one like Synergy Decisions.

By on May 20th, 2015

Tags: Default, Rightsholders, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship effectiveness, Sponsorship measurement, Sponsorship valuation, Synergy

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Synergy named Agency of The Year at BT Sport Industry Awards

Synergy was named Sport Agency of the Year last night at the BT Sport Industry Awards in London, receiving the coveted accolade – the top honour in the UK sports sponsorship industry – in front of an audience of 1,750 of sport’s most influential names at the largest and most prestigious event of its type in Europe. Synergy took the award after a stunning 2014, which saw the agency post impressive financial results, deliver innovative campaigns for clients around the world, and win a raft of new business, including Accenture, Aviva and Canterbury. The judges reserved particular praise for Synergy’s vibrant culture, creativity and industry-leading investment in its people. Synergy CEO Tim Crow was joined on stage at Battersea Evolution by Synergy’s Chief Strategy Officer Carsten Thode to collect the Agency of The Year trophy from Rugby World Cup-winning former England winger Jason Robinson and ex-Wales and British & Irish Lion Shane Williams. Read Sport Industry Group’s summary of the event here and see the full list of winners here.

By on May 1st, 2015

Tags: Awards, Press Clipping, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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Bloodmarketing: is Red the new Black?

Back in summer 2012, the sponsorship industry witnessed a seminal CSR activation by Hemoba, a Brazilian blood bank and Brazilian football club Vitória, with their ‘My Blood is Red & Black’ campaign. Synergy’s colleagues in Brazil wrote about the activity at the time in their review of the year, picking it out for special praise.

As a quick reminder for anyone unaware of the activity (so that’s probably just … ), the concept revolved around the insight that people in Brazil only give blood when inspired to do so by someone they really care about. So who better to donate for than the club you love?

From this singular insight the club created a clear, cute and well-intentioned campaign, the centre-piece of which saw the red of Vitória’s famous red and black shirts leeched white. As fans committed to blood banks across Bahia State, the club shirts steadily regained their iconic colour.

Again, you can’t argue with the results for Hemoba – who marked an increase in donations of 46% – or Vitória itself, as there has scarcely been a more appropriate example of fans giving their blood, sweat and tears for their team shirt.

So why mention this again?

Well, because last week it was announced that anyone giving blood (okay, anyone in Denmark, in a prescribed location, at a defined time…) would be given a copy of the new PlayStation 4 game, Bloodborne.

With multiple rave reviews, and a RRP of £49.99 (or around 500 Danish Krone), there’s little question this represents a good deal. Even Danes not able to make the donation session on March 23rd in Copenhagen were still encouraged to sign up to give blood, as those that add ‘PS4′ after their name on the GivBlod donor list, have the chance to win a PlayStation 4 console.

Why target gamers? GivBlod have established that there is currently a shortage of male blood in Denmark, so used what they considered a traditionally male platform to incentivise action.

Why Bloodborne? Well, the hemoglobic connection was probably too good to miss, plus it’s a game with a PEGI rating of 16, meaning if you’re buying it, there’s a chance you meet the 17 years-and-over legal age to give blood in Denmark.

With largely positive (if a little quippy) feedback from the online community, it suggests that PlayStation and GivBlod are on to something here.

Question will be whether they use this mechanic to engage more broadly than the stereotypical male gamer demographic, particularly since in Denmark this passion point is actually not quite as definitively XY as assumed (although PS4 ownership might be).

Danish Gamers Source: ISFE, 2012

Moreover, if looking at the Europe-wide statistics, it’s clear that female gamers are in fact becoming more and more prominent.

ESA 2014

 

In the wake of #Gamergate, it’s all the more important that advertisers, brands and associated stakeholders consider the wider gamer demographics as a relevant group to engage.

Regardless, it’s unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of consumer incentivisation meeting a product launch beyond the initial Danish blood test.

By on March 30th, 2015

Tags: Advertising, Default, Football, Football Sponsorship, Gaming, Sponsorship consultancy

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Will this be Rugby’s Perfect Moment?

Back in September 2014, a year out from Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy gathered a panel of experts at the top of The Shard, with an audience of sports sponsorship glitterati, to debate whether the upcoming tournament would be ‘Rugby’s Perfect Moment’. Could this be the year for rugby to break free from the pack to establish itself as the number two UK sport? Could 2015 be a catalyst to super-charge rugby’s international expansion?

With a panel including Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby; Damian Hopley, CEO of the Rugby Players’ Association; and Rose Beaumont, Senior Vice President and Group Head of Communications of Rugby World Cup Worldwide Partner MasterCard, it may come as no surprise that the debate was how, not if, this year would be ‘Rugby’s Perfect Moment’. But what underpins such confidence that 2015 could step change rugby’s profile, in the UK and beyond?

A Solid Set Piece

As a globally relevant spectacle, the Rugby World Cup (RWC) is on an upward trajectory, with each tournament surpassing its previous incarnation. The 2011 tournament in New Zealand may have been less commercially lucrative, with small stadia forcing ticket sales down 40% on 2007 and some pretty unfriendly match scheduling as far as European broadcasters were concerned, but it didn’t stop World Rugby continuing to tout their showpiece event as the world’s 3rd biggest tournament. There is no debate on the top two – the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup are pre-eminent in terms of interest and media coverage – but many a rightsholder makes claim to the final podium position.

What is Rugby World Cup’s argument over the likes of the F1 Championship, the Champions League, the European Football Championship, the Ryder Cup and the NFL? ‘It is the third biggest global event of an international flavour,’ claims Gosper, citing the number of participating unions, the TV footprint, cumulative TV audience of 4bn, and ticket sales. While many observers, including Synergy’s CEO Tim Crow, have raised eyebrows at such pronouncements, there is no doubt that the platform for growth is strong. RWC 2015 will produce an estimated 20,000 hours of coverage, broadcast in over 200 territories, to over 800 million homes. A return to the commercial epicentre of global rugby means the 2015 edition is set to be the biggest yet.

An Expansive Game Plan

From such a proven set-piece, rugby has the opportunity to reach hitherto untouched communities and audiences. From a UK perspective, the challenge for tournament organisers England Rugby 2015 (ER2015), and longer-term for the RFU, is to help rugby expand from the traditional heartlands and engage a new audience, who will not only be captivated during the tournament, but will stick with the sport once the big show has packed up and moved on, destination Japan 2019. The dreaded L-word: legacy.

But first the nation needs to be in thrall to tournament itself. And if you want a playbook for capturing the public imagination, it doesn’t get much more compelling than London 2012. Who better to implement that blueprint than the LOCOG team – including Chief Executive Debbie Jevans and Director of Comms Jo Manning-Cooper – who have been parachuted into the ER2015 organising committee? From ‘The Pack’ of 6,000 volunteers (RWC’s ‘Games Makers’) to the 100-day Domestic Trophy Tour (there is no Torch to ‘relay’ when it comes to rugby), the London 2012 tactics are being redeployed to give the tournament more geographic and demographic reach.

Arguably the RWC has an in-built advantage. Whereas the Olympics and Paralympics were London (or at least South-East) specific, each over within a couple of weeks, RWC 2015 is a six-week tournament, played out across 13 venues in 11 cities nationwide. Not only will host cities share the 48 matches, their staging agreements include commitments to deliver Fanzones, where the ticket-less can watch matches on big screens, participate in various rugby experiences and sponsor activations, and feel part of the tournament.

The intention is clear: a genuinely inclusive and national tournament. As Gosper comments, ‘London enhanced the Olympic brand. I’m hoping the same will be true of England 2015 for the RWC brand.’ ER2015’s stated ambition to make the UK a ‘rugby nation’ in 2015 – seemingly shared by Visit England – began with Stuart Lancaster starting Newcastle’s firework display and unveiling a RWC 2015 logo on the Tyne Bridge, and will continue through Olympic-esque countdown milestones, such as ‘100 days to go’ and the launch of the Domestic Trophy tour on June 10th.

A Big Scrum

The ER2015 marketing approach is clear, but what about the consumer appetite? With over five million ticket applications during the first 17-day sales window – the highest demand for any RWC to date – and approaching two million tickets sold, initial signs are good. While ER2015 are still ‘expecting’ complete sell-outs across all matches, the over-supply of Millennium Stadium matches looks to be a minor miscalculation. It remains to be seen whether the frenzy for tickets – aptly echoed in ER2015’s ‘world’s largest scrum’ PR stunt to launch the ticket drive – has brought in a new audience. Regardless of the ultimate make-up and volume of tournament spectators, that prerequisite for successful sporting competitions – packed stadia – is guaranteed, and RWC 2015 will be the most attended RWC ever.

Bums on seats are essential not just for the spectator experience, but also for how the spectacle translates to pubs and homes across the nation via ITV’s coverage. RWC is a lucrative asset for the broadcaster. A 30-second TV ad spot in an England pool match is likely to set you back £100,000, with the price escalating the further Stuart Lancaster’s men progress in the tournament. ITV will be hoping the host nation advance to the latter stages, so audiences are closer to the 15.8m who tuned in for the England v South Africa Final in 2007, than the 7.6m who watched the England v France Quarter-Final in 2011 – both England’s final (and most watched) games in the respective tournaments.

It appears that ITV’s money men are planning for success. As a barometer of consumer interest, the reports that RWC will bump X-Factor from its sacred Saturday night slot suggest change is in the air. This is reinforced by Repucom analysis, which suggests that the proportion of people in the UK interested in rugby is set to jump from 35% to over 46% in 2015. That would translate to an extra five million rugby fans in the UK. Quite a surge in interest, and a mouth-watering opportunity for rugby sponsors.

Forward Drive

Back to the ‘L’ word, and rugby’s chances of harnessing the heightened consumer interest to create a sustainable, long-term increase in followers and participants. The RFU palpably failed to capitalise on England’s RWC triumph in 2003, so what should they do differently this time? Perhaps best not to follow the Olympic blueprint on this one, according to Tim Crow: ‘The London 2012 Olympic legacy ultimately became a toxic subject. People never fully understood why the money was being spent. We want the aftermath for the Rugby World Cup to be really impactful. And I’m not sure we’re completely there yet on explaining what the event’s legacy is meant to be.’

The RFU is talking a good game. Planning started three years out, focused on building capacity and increasing participation: £10m to be invested in facilities; over £1m in newly qualified coaches and referees; £500,000 in recruiting lapsed players. Perhaps the most interesting initiatives are those spreading the gospel to new audiences – the All Schools programme aiming to bring rugby union into 750 state schools by 2019, and investment in touch rugby as a more accessible entry point to the game. The money and programmes are there, but much depends on England’s on-pitch performance providing the requisite inspiration for a new generation. Failure to emerge from the group of death could have huge ramifications on the future of the game in England.

Foreign Muscle

Beyond the UK, the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour – a global procession of the Webb Ellis Cup delivered in partnership with RWC Worldwide partners Land Rover and DHL – is helping to foster international anticipation. In 2014 it made its way across 10 countries, from the core rugby nations of Australia, Fiji, Argentina, and South Africa to burgeoning rugby hotspots such as China and the UAE. The sport is already breaking free of its heartlands and growing at a significant rate. In the US, while participation in baseball and basketball fell between 2008 and 2013 (14.5% and 9.3% respectively), rugby participation grew 81%, more than any other sport, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Indeed, in 2008 the top 10 countries in terms of rugby participation were the usual suspects – the RBS 6 Nations and Rugby Championship nations. By 2010, the top 10 included the United States, plus Japan and Sri Lanka.

The RWC is the commercial catalyst for the game globally, and World Rugby’s profits from each tournament are invested in the growth of the game through initiatives such as their ‘Get Into Rugby’ programme. But a very different dynamic, and slightly different sport, are responsible for creating a ‘perfect moment’ for rugby globally. The biggest surge in participation materialised when the International Olympic Committee voted to add Rugby Sevens for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games. A shorter format, more accessible for new fans and players alike, and with a greater chance of success for smaller, less affluent rugby federations such as Fiji and Kenya. The growth of Sevens, and its involvement at Rio 2016, are arguably the most significant factors in rugby’s international development. It remains to be seen how compatible the two forms of the game remain. The tension between Test Match cricket and T20 could well be replicated in rugby as players become short-form specialists and younger fans gravitate to the festival nature of a Sevens event. For the time being, rugby’s global icons will remain in the 15-a-side game, with RWC its pinnacle.

A Deft Sidestep

RWC 2015 is on track to be a record-breaking tournament on every measure. Commercial success is all but guaranteed, and the tournament organisers have 2015 largely to themselves as they look to build anticipation. The Ashes will take the limelight for a while, but will also help to stoke the fire of traditional England–Aussie rivalry, ahead of the Pool A showdown at Twickenham on October 3rd. The global game is in rude health, fuelled by Olympic dreams, and will continue its expansion east with Japan 2019 on the horizon. But the real test will be whether RWC 2015 grabs hold of a new audience and pulls them into rugby’s embrace for good. Sponsors have a massive role to play in taking the rugby message beyond traditional audiences. Brand activation around the 2011 tournament was relatively underwhelming, and it will be interesting to see how many RWC and National team sponsors step up to the plate this year.

So, Rugby’s Perfect Moment? Well, as Stephen Jones, The Sunday Times’ rugby correspondent, pointed out at the top of the Shard, if rugby was meant to be perfect they would be using a round ball. Imperfect maybe, given how much rests on the shoulders of a team scuppered at the previous tournament by mystery blondes and dwarf tossing, but undoubtedly Rugby’s Biggest Moment.

Tom’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.

By on March 18th, 2015

Tags: 6 Nations, Experiential marketing, RBS 6 Nations, Rugby, Rugby World Cup, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Synergy

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