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.


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.

Will Rugby World Cup 2015 Be Rugby’s Perfect Moment?

With almost one year to go to Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy assembled an expert panel, in front of an invited audience in stunning surroundings at the top of The Shard, to discuss and debate key issues around rugby’s biggest tournament.

Shard panel

With the iconic Rugby World Cup trophy itself for company, the panel, moderated by BBC rugby commentator Andrew Cotter, featured: Brett Gosper, CEO of the IRB; Stephen Jones, Sunday Times Rugby Correspondent; Damian Hopley, CEO of the Rugby Players’ Association; Rose Beaumont, Senior Vice President and Group Head of Communications of RWC Worldwide Partner MasterCard; and Tim Crow, CEO of Synergy.

Shard 6

The panel and the stunning setting created an occasion to remember, as the debate ranged across an array of fascinating themes, including...

- The panellists' predictions for how RWC 2015 will play out on and off the field

- The IRB’s strategy for growing rugby globally

- The complementary roles of Rugby Sevens and of the 15-a-side game

- The relationship between today's professional rugby players and the media

- The need to re-structure the global rugby calendar

- The appeal of rugby for MasterCard

- Sponsorship at the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, when the sponsors were announced the day before the tournament and the media gift was a paper zip-up jacket!

For all this and more, check out our highlights film of the event below:


Rugby World Cup 2015


Create newsworthy ideas and surprising content to deliver MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ positioning and extend the media reach of the MasterCard Rugby World Cup Worldwide Partnership.



Working with the raft of World Class ambassadors, we set about creating Priceless moments for fans globally. Rugby superstar Dan Carter took a kick over the biggest rugby posts in England, Tower Bridge, to launch the campaign. Other highlights saw Sébastien Chabal surprising Parisians at the Eiffel Tower, Martin ‘2003’ Johnson’s April Fools film, and a Haka Flashmob in Covent Garden featuring the late, great Jonah Lomu.


Our launch shot of Dan Carter became one of the most iconic images of Rugby World Cup 2015, being used in the ATL campaign, and the video content taking centre stage on the big screens inside stadia – reaching over 2 million fans. Over 500 pieces of media coverage landed in more than 100 countries, across six continents. Jonah Lomu’s haka in Covent Garden itself generated over 5 million organic views and counting.

UEFA Champions League


Deliver MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ positioning and add media reach and depth to MasterCard’s UEFA Champions League partnership by taking the story of the MasterCard mascots into the media in the lead-up to the UEFA Champions League Final.



Walking out onto the pitch at the Champions League Final is a ‘Priceless’ experience for the mascots, so we treat them like stars. This has included creating a ‘Champions League Mascot Training Camp’ with Deco, featuring little lookalikes of global stars such as Ronaldo and Rooney, with Deco coaching the mascots how to shake hands, how to line up, how to behave for the cameras and more, and Michael Ballack presenting the mascots with their kits for the Final on stage at a press conference for the world’s media.


By re-imagining a traditional asset we have turned it into a newsworthy story which delivers MasterCard-owned media coverage across multiple countries year-on-year as well as fun, shareable content that racks up hundreds of thousands of views.