Canterbury & England Rugby 2016 Kit Launch


Before we begin, let me share with you two well-known facts:

• Google owns the largest search engine in the world
• Through YouTube, Google owns the ‘go to’ place to consume video content

Clearly then Google’s stronghold on our online behaviour is second to none, but with eight billion video views a day, Facebook are getting their own slice of the action. By identifying which content individuals want to see, Facebook has become the discovery platform for video content. Additionally, video posts have 135% greater organic reach than images on Facebook. This impressive statistic places Facebook and its new live broadcast offering as one of the leading tools to reach a target demographic with news about something they would not necessarily proactively search for.

For this very reason, Canterbury and England Rugby adopted Facebook LIVE for the launch of the new kit. Therefore, in a first for both Canterbury and England Rugby, we hosted a multi-camera Facebook LIVE broadcast treating viewers to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the kit and the kit launch media day.

Having identified Facebook LIVE as the go to primary launch channel, the next challenge was to ensure the kit unveil was engaging, helping to gain traction online, while remaining of genuine interest to the England Rugby fan base.

Rather than go down the well-trodden path of a simple Facebook LIVE Fan Question and Answer session, we gave the viewer a unique fly-on-the-wall look of the kit launch from inside Twickenham stadium and England Rugby’s private/ exclusive quarters. In doing so we not only eschewed traditional media but gave Canterbury’s audience the chance to watch the event unfold via Facebook Live.

England captain Dylan Hartley, Maro Itoje, Mike Brown, George Kruis and Rochelle Clark MBE were all under the spotlight during the 40 minute live broadcast. With such an array of rugby talent featured, the key to the broadcast was to let the player’s personalities shine through. Recruiting ex-England international and British & Irish Lion Ugo Monye to host the broadcast not only helped us engage the players, but more importantly the audience.

With the talent in place and host prepared, we managed a ten man camera crew, helping to create a premium, high definition broadcast the launch deserved.

Alongside exciting player VTs, which featured the Canterbury kit launch campaign brand film, there were three engaging key scenes in the live broadcast from Twickenham stadium:

1) Fly on the wall look at the media photo shoot
2) A question and answer session influenced by fan comments feeding into the stream.
3) Fan led takeover where we asked the viewer to use relevant emojis to guide the players around Twickenham, giving the viewer unprecedented access to the England changing room, gym and tunnel – all usually out of bounds for fans.

The results of the launch speak for themselves with 114,100 organic views and 6,550 comments/ reactions driving massive exposure for the both Canterbury and England Rugby. Through clever planning, a lot of hard work and excellent execution, we managed to shine among the Olympic Games noise and show Canterbury as an innovative brand wanting to tap into the latest technology to reach their target market. The content already ranks as one of the most successful England Rugby Facebook LIVE mid-week broadcasts, driving traffic to the e-commerce website and thus capitalising on impulse purchases.For a glimpse into the launch day, check out the two minute highlight reel here.

Finally, a shirt sponsor for Les Bleus?

In mid-April, on the same day that the NBA announced it would be the first of the big US sports to adopt jersey sponsorship, across the Atlantic in a Bordeaux suburb French rugby luminary Bernard Laporte launched his bid to become President of the FFR, which if he is elected could see France become the last major rugby nation to sell its national team’s shirt to a sponsor.

After the NZRU sold the previously sponsor-free All Blacks shirt to AIG for five years in 2012, Les Bleus became the only major national rugby team who choose to take the field with unbranded shirts. Laporte proposes to change that.

Laporte’s is a classic sports federation rationale: selling the shirt sponsorship will create a big new revenue stream, which he estimates at €5m-€10m per year, to help fund French grass roots rugby development. But this is much more than a commercial decision for the FFR: it will require a major philosophical pivot.

In March last year FFR head of marketing Bernard Godet told L’Equipe that the FFR had received three unsolicited shirt sponsorship offers for Les Bleus, but that the bids had been “rejected outright without studying them” because the French national team shirt is “a symbol….We remain committed to this principle and we are very proud, even if the All Blacks gave in. We are the last ones.”

When the NZRU sold AIG the All Blacks’ shirt sponsorship in 2012, France became
the last major rugby nation to choose to take the field without a shirt sponsor

And earlier this year Mr Godet told Le Monde that the FFR will not “yield to the sirens’ money” and “sell our soul…The French shirt is ultimately a kind of flag, not to be tainted with a brand of coffee, or car, or olive oil” - although he also revealed that the FFR was considering selling the sevens, women’s and youth teams’ shirts to a sponsor.

A big philosophical gap then. But unbridgeable? Maybe not. In a classic piece of realpolitik, Laporte has also proposed that the shirt sponsorship should be sold only to ‘a beautiful French flagship brand’, building a Touboniste bridge between his and the FFR’s position.

We’ll have to wait until the end of this year to find out if Laporte’s Presidential bid is successful. But if it is, with 44 manifesto measures to push through he will be a very busy man. And the shirt sponsorship idea is not one of the 44 measures in Laporte’s manifesto, so could readily be de-prioritised in the inevitable politicking of the election or its aftermath.

There’s no doubt that were it to become available there would be high demand for the French shirt sponsorship given the popularity of rugby in France, the size of the French economy, the domestic and international media visibility of the shirt, and the cachet of becoming the first shirt sponsor of Les Bleus.

However, restricting the opportunity to French brands will reduce the value of the opportunity to the FFR, by driving down demand and competition from international brands who, as the All Blacks’ deal with AIG demonstrated, would surely be interested.

So for a French-only deal the lower half of Laporte’s estimate of €5m-€10m per year is about right, benchmarked against what other major rugby countries generate for their shirt sponsorships and, as our sponsorship evaluation model Synergy Decisions demonstrates, the fact that a sponsorship has varying values to brands in different categories.

Only time will tell if Les Bleus finally break with tradition. But in the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at the commercial proposals in Laporte’s manifesto – in particular the concept of pooling the commercial rights of the FFR and the clubs. Now that would be radical.

Standard Life Investments and The Lions: the big cat is out of the bag!

The big cat is out of the bag: on January 11 Synergy helped Standard Life Investments announce their agreement to become the Principal Partner of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

After months of hard work, initially in supporting Standard Life Investments negotiate the partnership, then into campaign planning, the launch featured five legendary Lions as brand ambassadors, whose stature reflected Standard Life Investments’ world class positioning.

The launch was staged at The Gherkin, the iconic London base of Standard Life Investments, and generated impressive results:

As part of the launch we produced this spine-tingling film evoking the Lions’ unique heritage and highlighting the shared values and ambitions of the two new partners – enjoy.

To complement the Lions partnership, Standard Life Investments’ is also a Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup – a unique, prestigious and highly effective combination that delivers powerfully and precisely to the needs of the business and the brand.

Roll on Hazeltine 2016 and and New Zealand 2017!

The Lomu Effect: How one man changed rugby union

On Wednesday 18th November, as we awoke to the news that All Blacks great Jonah Lomu had passed away, the first tribute I saw posted on Facebook was from my mum. She is not the slightest bit interested in sport yet, such was the impact of the legend of Lomu, had been moved enough to write a post on the great man. I suppose this could be described as the 'Lomu Effect'.I count myself lucky to have crossed paths a number of times with Jonah during his all-too-short life, with my first meeting arising when I was fortunate enough to attend a Hall of Fame dinner in London. Jonah was there in an immaculate suit and had an unmistakable aura, which increased my nervousness as I approached him to request an autograph. I shouldn't have been worried. He was so kind and had so much time for me.

About 15 years later, I came across Jonah again during Rugby World Cup 2015. He was still the warm, friendly guy I had first met as a youngster; a guy who had time for everyone. He still had that aura, something usually associated with football’s megastars. Following him around that day were his little boys, both wearing All Blacks shirts with 'Lomu 11' on the back. He had conquered the sporting world and had stood upon its summit; now he was focused on being a father, perhaps a tougher feat. It is this that is most tragic about his sudden passing.

Going back to his playing days, Lomu's emergence on the world stage swept away rugby's traditional style and heralded a new dawn. Simply put, he was a professional athlete playing an amateur game. He turned heads with his unique combination of athleticism, brute force and beautifully balanced running style. In one tournament he changed the sport forever, helping to boost the appeal of rugby worldwide.

There is no doubt the sport would eventually have gone professional, but Jonah helped accelerate the transition. The 'Lomu Effect' from the 1995 Rugby World Cup had people talking about the Kiwi giant in homes, pubs and workplaces around the world – attracting people who had never watched a game of rugby before.

Soon after the '95 RWC, the 'Lomu Effect' led Rupert Murdoch to enter into negotiations with SANZAR to secure the rights to the newly established Tri-Nations and Super 12, and in doing so helped launch rugby into the professional era. Lomu's former agent, Phil Kingsley-Jones, revealed that one of the key points raised in the negotiations was that Sky wanted to ensure Lomu would be playing for NZ as he was the blockbuster star who would drive audience figures. Lomu had offers from the NFL but, fortunately for rugby, he stayed put.It wasn't just on the pitch that Lomu saw success, as he also became the face of the sport off it. One of the first TV ads I can remember was for Pizza Hut, featuring Jonah and the Underwood brothers, poking fun at how the big man had swatted them away on the pitch.
Adidas further increased his legend with the iconic photo-shoot on the banks of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown (see above image) to promote the All Blacks kit. In 2008, they named him in their Hall of Fame, further cementing his legacy as the first global superstar of the sport. Codemasters even launched a computer game dedicated to the big man in 1997 - Jonah Lomu Rugby the first ever rugby union game - that reflected his status as one of the world's most marketable stars. Other players have since reached global superstar status in the game, such as Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but no-one comes close to Jonah.He became bigger than rugby; bigger than sport even, and was elevated to a level reserved for the likes of Pele and Muhammad Ali. Brand Lomu continued to grow even when his playing days finished and this year, around RWC 2015, his fame was as strong as ever. The fact that news of his passing at the young age of 40 was a top story on all international news outlets, when so much else has been going on in the world, shows how big a deal he was.He was a man mountain on the pitch and a gentle giant off it. He changed rugby forever, showing how stars of the sport could promote the game outside of its traditional fan base. He was the perfect ambassador for rugby, the perfect ambassador for sport and the perfect ambassador for how to carry oneself through life.

The 'Lomu Effect' will live on.

RWC 2015: A Ground-Breaking Tournament for Synergy

1. The Greatest Shirt Never Seen Artwork

Rugby World Cup 2015 has been standout for Synergy: the brands we've worked with, the campaigns we've helped create and the ground we've broken through our activation. Anyone would be proud to share the work we've done with our clients, with some of our major RWC highlights including... Canterbury.

Canterbury’s RWC business goals were simple: reinforce the brand’s commitment to rugby, and to deliver its most innovative and commercially successful shirt launch. Bringing to life the campaign message of “Committed to the Rose”, we focussed on inspiring consumers to demonstrate their commitment and be rewarded for this in a truly innovative, immersive and participative campaign, which, critically, drove purchase consideration.

We exploited the ‘pre-sale’ window by releasing an exclusive silhouetted image of the shirt, inviting fans to display commitment by purchasing ‘The Greatest Shirt Never Seen’. As an incentive, all fans who signed up had the chance to physically unveil the shirt on launch day (more on that later…). Using Thunderclap, fans were also asked to ‘Click to Commit’, which meant they automatically released images of the new shirt on their social media platforms an hour before the official media reveal.

The digital launch drove over 3,500 sign-ups with a combined reach of 1.9 million.

On top of this, three lucky fans were then surprised with the ultimate test of their commitment to the rose, when given the chance to quite literally ‘launch’ the shirt via a 12,500-foot parachute jump. Following their safe return to terra firma, the fans were greeted by three England players, with the subsequent video content viewed by more than 600,000 people.
Canterbury kept up the momentum post-launch by releasing the ‘Co-ordinates of Commitment’, revealing the locations across the country of crates (also dropped by air) containing Canterbury shirts. If successful with commitment-based social challenges, fans were rewarded with the codes to unlock the crates and get their hands on the lucre.

The 'Committed to the Rose' campaign ran alongside the Brand Roadshow experience. Demonstrating the role Canterbury plays in all levels of rugby, the experience was based on two very different rugby dressing rooms: one from the humble grassroots game, the other the elite level.


Putting Canterbury’s brand at the heart of the experience, fans were able to try on the Training product range and take on the “Diving Try” activity, as well as competing against England’s Sam Burgess in an exclusive “Speed Test”. More than 15,000 rugby fans took part in the experiences, all leaving with photos to share socially and a powerful Canterbury story to tell.Emirates

As one of Rugby World Cup 2015’s Worldwide Partners, one of Emirates’ key rights was providing the Flag Bearers at all 48 matches. The recruitment of these Flag Bearers focussed on a social media ‘treasure hunt’ at iconic locations across the 11 Host Cities, led by Ben Foden.

Once selected, Flag Bearers were put through their paces with all-weather training at Twickenham, giving them a taste of what might lie ahead. By the time the tournament kicked off, we’d already generated numerous coverage spikes in the national media…with the winners left with the simple task of leading the teams out in front of the world.


Synergy also created a genuinely innovative Emirates activation at the official Fanzones, designed to capture the feelings of excitement of Flag Bearers when coming out on to the pitch.

We created a structure housing 38 cameras (a nod to Emirates’ very own 360 degree camera which is used on board all of its Airbus A380 flights) that took a 360-degree, Matrix-style shot of fans’ RWC excitement. By stitching these images together, a short GIF animation was created which they could share socially from the Fanzones in both Richmond and Trafalgar Square.

Emirates Rugby World Cup Chiya Louie


Over 10,000 people took part, sharing their GIFs and generating 350,000 organic impressions across social media. Of those who participated, 80% said they were more likely to fly with Emirates as a result, making it not just an innovative activation, but an effective one too.

In addition, Emirates wanted to be part of the fan experience at all 13 stadiums and across social media. As part of the wider ‘Bringing Rugby Home’ brand campaign, Emirates engaged rugby fans from all nations with the #BringingRugbyHome promotion. Anyone posing for a photo with the Emirates cabin crew were entered into a draw to win a holiday to Dubai, which delivered over 1,500 entries and more than 1.5 million organic page views.




Coca-Cola’s RWC 2015 journey began back in 2013 when Synergy undertook a review of the GB sponsorship landscape. Given the brand’s heritage with the competition – a commercial partner of every Rugby World Cup since 1995 – Coca-Cola were always going to have a crucial role to play at the event. Synergy’s role was paramount in the internal sell-in of the business opportunity, and supporting the subsequent contract negotiations to ensure a rights package that would be appropriate for the intended activation approach.

Once the contract was signed, our work began supporting the operational and brand planning required to leverage Coca-Cola’s Rugby World Cup sponsorship throughout the business. This included managing the day-to-day relationship with Rugby World Cup Ltd and its commercial partner, IMG. Our role mainly focussed on strategic support and operational logistics, including the management of product provision for all participating teams and venues, with over 250,000 litres of product despatched to over 70 different delivery venues. Synergy also ensured Powerade’s field of play presence was world-class, providing teams a staggering 2,600 sipper bottles, 414 bottle carriers, and 90 eskies.

South Africa v Scotland - Group B: Rugby World Cup 2015

The Synergy team also managed Coca-Cola’s Rugby World Cup approvals process, optimising its use of RWC IP and helping to catalyse campaigns such as its biggest ever rugby on-pack promotion (‘Win A Ball’), Glaceau Smartwater’s #6WordSummaries, and social media match ball competitions. We also compiled a comprehensive review of the RWC sponsorship landscape, in the months preceding and during the tournament, giving Coca-Cola an in-depth look at all RWC-focussed brand activity.

During the tournament itself we adopted an on-site support role, which saw the team visit all 13 stadiums and over 60% of matches, ensuring Coca-Cola’s look of success was adhered to and its commercial rights were fully protected.


In a Tournament dominated by advertising spend, in-stadia activity and merchant partnerships, many will quite simply overlook the role and importance of PR. Fortunately, we don’t. Our aim was simple, we wanted to create iconic and engaging content for MasterCard that would not only live editorially, but would shape the brand’s activity throughout the campaign. For us, that started back in April 2014 when we created arguably the most iconic image of the Tournament. Dan Carter kicking a conversion through Tower Bridge initially generated international media traction and set the tone for our later activity, however, so strong was the PR image, that it has now been carried through the line by MasterCard.



The ‘making of’ footage was seen on the giant screens at Waterloo station, as well as being shown at every match in the 13 match venues. To ensure we had consistency, we created a full set of images starring our other ambassadors, including Johnson, Chabal, Robshaw, Wood and Lomu, which were used on ‘through the line’ campaigns, including direct marketing, online activation and even in the official RWC shops.


As sponsors of ITV’s Rugby World Cup broadcast, SSE had the perfect platform to increase brand awareness and reach fans watching games in the comfort of their own homes. It was our challenge to activate the broadcast rights in a way which encouraged fans to sign up for SSE Reward through the creative  ‘Sounds of Victory’ campaign.


Synergy launched #SoundsofVictory with a world first – developing specially engineered, custom-made sound bottles, which used state-of-the-art technology to capture the atmosphere from key moments in rugby history. A bottle was created for each of the home nations and on removal of the lid, the sounds played out to allow the listener to re-live a famous moment in that nation’s rugby history. The bottles were displayed at a pop-up shop in central London with special guests, Neil Back MBE (England), Ryan Jones (Wales), Stephen Ferris (Ireland) and Hugo Southwell (Scotland).  This innovative stunt created over 80 pieces of coverage across the home nations.


In true Synergy style, we were keen to react to any opportunities that emerged within the tournament and we didn’t have to wait long. It was made apparent that the All Blacks were kept awake at night by people partying in the streets of Cardiff.  SSE were quick to swoop in and make a delivery of #SoundsofVictory ear plugs to their hotel! Resulting in increased awareness of SSE’s affiliation with the tournament and smiling fans.

SSE Sounds of Victory earplugs

SSE also became the Official Presenting Partner of the film Building Jerusalem, a film that told the story of England’s greatest ever Rugby World Cup triumph in 2003. We used SSE’s affiliation with ‘Building Jerusalem’ as a newshook to promote and drive signups to the SSE Reward programme.  We did this by sharing the story of Building Jerusalem through the eyes of our ambassadors: Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard. Taking inspiration from Gogglebox, we filmed their reactions as they re-lived their experience of the tournament, capturing compelling content which was shared with national and online media. The campaign generated 21 pieces of coverage that included SSE Reward messaging in outlets such as Mail Online, Press Association and Daily Express and the video has achieved 125,965 views to date.


The Next Big Evolution In Rugby World Cup Sponsorship

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.

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.

Ambush and Amateurism: How Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Began

The closer we get to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which Synergy is working on for four of the tournament’s sponsors and one of ITV’s broadcast sponsors, the more I’ve been reminded of the very different commercial background to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, the first time the RWC was staged in England, and the huge impact the tournament had on rugby and sports marketing in the UK. So, being (I suspect) one of a fairly small group of people to have worked on both RWC 1991 and 2015, here’s my take on the formative years of RWC sponsorship.

Ahead of RWC 2015, the eighth Rugby World Cup, we have a very good idea of what the tournament’s going to be like off the field – consumer behaviour, media coverage, brand activations, and so on. But ahead of the 1991 tournament, the Rugby World Cup was an unknown quantity for UK marketers.

It was by far the biggest sporting event to have been staged in the UK since the 1966 World Cup, so it was our first taste of a world event for merely twenty-five years.

The first Rugby World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, hadn’t really cut through here at all: rugby was a much smaller sport than it is now – pro rugby was still eight years away – and the Antipodean time-zone meant that pre-Sky, pre-satellite media coverage in the UK was after the fact, and light.

There were no meaningful sponsorship benchmarks: only a handful of companies had signed up to sponsor RWC 1987, almost all of them Japanese brands motivated solely by strong TV coverage of the tournament in Japan. One, KDD, paid more than the others and effectively became the tournament’s title sponsor. And as we shall see, in 1991 another Japanese brand repeated the trick.

A 1987 Rugby World Cup Final ticket. Note the KDD branding.

These were also evolutionary times for sports marketing in the UK. Although the industry was growing fast, the supply of opportunities was still limited, rights holders were old-school and commercially under-skilled (not least in rugby), and among brands, sports marketing was very much a minority activity.

The result of all that was that many of the operating principles we take for granted today just didn’t apply ahead of RWC 1991.

And the biggest difference was how RWC 1991 event and broadcast sponsorships were sold.

Today, it’s well-established practice for rights holders to sell their event sponsorships well in advance, and give their major sponsors a contractual first option to buy sponsorship of the event’s TV coverage. World Rugby been exemplary in this respect, and as a result one of the Worldwide Partners, Land Rover, has exercised their contractual option to become a co-sponsor of ITV’s RWC coverage. Similarly, our client SSE was only able to buy the other ITV broadcast sponsor position after the other RWC Worldwide Partners passed on the opportunity and it went to the open market.

All very orderly. But there was nothing like that in place for RWC 1991. Back then, the ITV broadcast sponsorship was open to all from the off, and taken to market at the same time as the event sponsorships. The broadcast sponsorship sold relatively quickly, whereas most of the event sponsorships were eventually sold at the last minute.

Compared to today, it was chaotic.

Two events above all led to this happening.

The first was the organising committee’s mysterious decision to award the tournament’s commercial rights lock, stock and barrel to a (now long-defunct) company called CPMA. This proved to be disastrous in many ways, not least in relation to sponsorship. CPMA priced each RWC event sponsorship at a deluded £2m, got knocked back by the market, and never recovered. Although Heinz (then run by former Irish rugby international Tony O’Reilly) signed up in 1990 for £1million, there were no other takers, and as a result CPMA inevitably became a price-taker reduced to doing last-minute deals: seven of the eight RWC 1991 event sponsors signed up in the six months prior to the tournament (I was on the buying side of two of these deals) for an average of around £300,000 each, including three in the last month.

The second was ITV’s coup in 1989 of winning the exclusive UK TV rights to RWC 1991, with a bid of £3million which the BBC could not, or would not, match: great business for ITV when you consider that the tournament was a big TV hit (over 13 million watched the England-Australia Final on ITV) and that this success paved the way for ITV to retain the rights to the RWC to this day. And even before the 1991 tournament started, ITV knew they were certain to make a profit when Sony bought the RWC broadcast sponsorship for £2million – two-thirds of what ITV paid for the rights.

This also turned out to be very good business for Sony, as David Pearson, Sony’s UK MD at the time, later recalled:

‘Various [Rugby World Cup] opportunities were presented to Sony including [being] one of eight named sponsors of the competition itself. However, what I felt was of much more interest was the opportunity to become the unique sponsor of the [ITV] broadcast rights…I decided to only sponsor the broadcasting and leave the event sponsorship to others…I believed that far more people would watch the matches on TV than in the stadia and I did not like the idea of sharing sponsorship with seven other parties. So it proved. The majority of people believed that Sony had actually been the event sponsor, giving rise to allegations by the official event sponsors that Sony had ambushed the competition. But that was false. We had chosen legitimately from the choices put to us by the agency representing the World Cup organisers and [ITV].’

I couldn’t agree more: Sony did nothing wrong. They took a brave decision on a new tournament and a new advertising format – paying, let’s not forget, far more than any of the event sponsors – and reaped the rewards. Ambush it may have been, but it was an officially-sanctioned and enabled ambush: the responsibility was wholly CPMA’s owing to their mismanagement of the commercial rights.

As to the ‘allegations by the official event sponsors’, my strong impression at the time was that most of this was driven by Heinz, who were particularly aggrieved: not only had they been undercut by CPMA’s fire-sale of the other event sponsorships, but they’d also seen the main benefit of being the first sponsor to sign up – the highest level of brand association with the tournament – blown away by Sony. (It’s perhaps not entirely coincidental that Heinz has eschewed major sponsorship ever since).

So all in all a painful lesson for the RWC, and a wake-up call for sports rights holders and brands everywhere about how sponsorships should be bought and sold around major events.

But I don’t want to leave you with a negative impression of RWC 1991 on or off the field: quite the opposite. The tournament was a huge success and left behind some very significant legacies.

It turbo-charged the UK sports marketing industry, accelerating its skills and giving it its first experience of activating the multi-sponsor major event model which was becoming the worldwide norm. Without that experience, for example, I have no doubt that five years later Euro 1996 would not have have been the huge success that it was off the field for sponsors in the UK.

But above all RWC 1991 was a watershed moment for rugby’s profile, which took off and never looked back. Quite simply, the tournament electrified the country. Everybody was talking about it, everybody was watching it, and especially in the week of the Final, it was everywhere – back pages, front pages and everything in between. It was glorious.

Here’s hoping for more of the same over the next couple of months. Good luck to everyone involved with RWC 2015.

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.

Switching from one to five sponsors cannot be judged until the Champions Cup is in its third year

‘There has been some ill‑informed criticism of the failure to sign all five main [European Rugby Champions Cup] sponsors. Tim Crow of sponsorship experts Synergy is one, if not the leading authority on sponsorship in the UK and explained recently that for rights of the order sought by EPCR a lead‑up time of at least 18 months was needed. Thus, the wisdom of the decision to switch from one headline sponsor to five elite sponsors cannot be judged until the Champions Cup is in its third year. If forced to choose between the opinion of Crow and critical rugby columnists, I choose Crow.’

Writer, broadcaster and England and Lions legend Brian Moore cites Tim Crow’s recent Rugby World piece on the European Rugby Champions Cup in his Daily Telegraph column.

Click here for the article.