How can brands and organisers leverage what is the first Rugby World Cup on Asian soil? 23 Capital's Global CMO, Darrell McLennan Fordyce, shares his insight into how best a legacy can be built from the tournament that will sustain the sport at all levels.
When Angus Gardner blew his whistle for the final time in the Pool A match between hosts Japan and Ireland, the stadium erupted with a deafening show of support from the home-town crowd.
Japan’s victory against Ireland shocked the sport, but it was just the latest in what is an ever-growing line of memorable moments from the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
28 games into the tournament, the first ever World Cup on Asian soil has been a notable success with fans, sponsors and players alike uniting to create the most watched rugby tournament to date. So far, so good for World Rugby.
It is not hyperbole to state that there was a major sense of the unknown heading into this tournament. After all, Japan and the Far East is hardly a hotspot of rugby fanaticism. There was pre-tournament discussion about how sponsors and brands could leverage a tournament in a country where a high proportion of the nation would probably be (at best) classed as casual viewers of the sport, whilst the early kick-off times must have generated a sense of unease for broadcasters and wider media in Europe.
Suffice to say, it’s been anything but a failure so far. As impressive as George Ford string-pulling at fly-half, the 2019 Rugby World Cup is proving to be a masterclass in performance by sponsors and organisers.
How have organisers and sponsors reached both die-hard supporters and casual observers so far in the tournament? Social media is the first, and most obvious, port of call. Clips from the action as well as supporters revelling in the atmosphere have received huge numbers of engagements and reactions. The hashtag #RWC2019 was the top global trend on Twitter during the opening ceremony, and it has stayed there or thereabouts as the tournament has progressed. GIFs and clips shared by the official Rugby World Cup have generated 883m views so far.
Perhaps the most compelling and far-reaching piece of content was the 3D capturing of New Zealand’s try in their opening game against South Africa. Published by World Rugby, the footage was recorded by Canon using its revolutionary Free Viewpoint Video System (FVVS), which captures footage of action on the pitch using several hi-res cameras, which are then combined to create a single 3D footage. World Rugby gained over 1.1m views from the clip on Twitter, and it has captured the attention of a vast global audience.
What makes the 3D clip so successful is the accessibility of the content: it creates awe and disbelief amongst sporting viewers for its ability to transport fans into the heart of the action, whilst transcending the sport and grabbing the attention of mainstream news outlets, tech geeks and audiences you wouldn’t associate with such a spectacle.
In short, a perfect example of how creative solutions can get people talking. It takes craft and knowledge to execute, something that 23 Capital live and breathe every day, helping clients to unleash similar levels of greatness.
Whilst it’s vital for such tournaments to appeal to new fans and target emerging markets, it shouldn’t be at the expense of ignoring its core audience. Take Land Rover as the ideal example: the car manufacturer is a Worldwide Partner of this year’s World Cup, but they have been a mainstay in the sport for over twenty years, from grassroots level through to Premiership Rugby.
Clearly, the tournament represents a major opportunity to target the mass-market that is Asia and the Far-East, and their campaigns so far have reflected that, from providing mascots for games, to working with legends of the sport to discover Japanese culture. Yet at the same time they’ve emphasised their wider rugby credentials: it’s main campaign, Impact Beyond, focuses on the tournament’s legacy and will introduce rugby to thousands of children around the world. It all goes back to Land Rover wanting to align its core values to the sport: integrity, courage, pride and capability.
Another strong example, this time targeting the emotions of both existing fans and newcomers to the sport, is Guinness. The brewers of the Black Stuff are never far away from the sport, be it sponsoring the Six Nations tournament or the global Pro14 league. Although not a brand partner at the 2019 World Cup, they’ve still captured the imagination with their “Made of More” campaign which has placed the Japan Women’s team at the heart of the campaign. In their own words, the campaign “champions real people around the globe who act with extraordinary integrity and character to enrich the world around them.”
What’s the one thing these brands have in common? They’ve all been involved in the sport for a long time. These aren’t fleeting campaigns that come and go. The likes of Land Rover, Guinness, Heineken and Canon stick around long after the show has left town. Success requires long-term commitment to realise ambition, alongside a clear set of criteria that is agreed upon the launch of the partnership.
You could argue that understanding this longevity manifests itself from the top down: the CEO of World Rugby, Brett Gosper, is, after all, a former advertising executive!
The fact this is the first World Cup on the Asian continent, has been a major theme of this year’s tournament. It is essential that both governing and regional rugby bodies use this generational opportunity to grow the sport in traditional and emerging markets.
Supporters of any sport love an underdog story and unlikely successes: Greece winning Euro 2004, Wimbledon winning the FA Cup in 1988, 2012’s Ryder Cup and the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ to name but a few. The ultimate wish must be for something similar to happen in Japan.
Take a look at the figures and you can see why this is such a crucial World Cup for key stakeholders:
• There are 112m rugby fans in Asia; more than on any other continent, including Europe, according to Nielsen Research.
• 20% of professional rugby players come from the Pacific Islands; an incredible number that makes you wonder why England haven’t toured the region since 1991.
• Fiji’s sole Olympic gold medal came in Rugby 7’s, which only became an Olympic sport in 2016, following much campaigning.
Currently, Rugby is a sport that relies on the big occasions, and that needs to change. England regularly attracts 80,000 spectators at Twickenham for the internationals, but it is the club game that is in danger of being left behind. Stadia needs renovating, more money needs to be injected in the right places, and a new generation of supporters needs to be captured. In the end, the equation is simple: better stadia create better fan experiences, which creates bigger revenue streams and therefore greater opportunity for brands to access a quality product.
The success of Japan so far in the tournament has surely helped to spike interest levels in the region: here’s to the Brave Blossoms going as far as they can this autumn (said with a heavy half-Scottish heart) to bring a whole continent’s worth of new fans to the rugby table. With England winning the whole thing, of course.