The greatest spectacle in the rugby world is nearly here – the World Cup is about to return to the UK for the first time since Australia beat France in the final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 1999. But the big difference now is that the battle will unfold not only on the pitch but across digital platforms too.
In 1999, websites were in their infancy. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram weren’t even a twinkle in their inventors’ eyes. Even since the last Rugby World Cup in 2011, there have been many digital strides – including the £78m investment to make Twickenham the most technologically advanced stadium in Europe.
What makes this competition so valuable is not only that it is one of the most watched global sports events, but also the profile of its fans and their digital knowledge. A recent survey found the average rugby fan under 35 has 4.6 devices in their household, giving brands a huge chance to exploit a wide range of platforms. For example, a quarter of rugby fans under 35 watch sport on their smartphone, compared with just 4 per cent of supporters aged over 55. This data is gold for sponsors and content providers.
Tournament organisers are working closely to help sponsors maximise impact, and I understand they shared their integrated marketing and communications strategy very early on - enabling partners to develop clear campaigns, milestones and timelines.
This has led to a lot of early digital activity, and the co-operation between organiser and sponsor has given rise to campaigns including #celebratingrugby with DHL and the Webb Ellis Trophy Tour with Land Rover.
As with every digital campaign, so much depends on content. However, it is important for the commercial partners and administrators alike to remember that the main purpose is to promote their brand and meet their objectives.
From a commercial perspective, the focus will be growing the consumer audience through clever and, where possible, real-time opportunities, such as Wimbledon’s capture this year of Roger Federer’s amazing ‘between the legs’ shot during the recent championships.
These moments are rare and need to be seized, but cannot be manufactured. The digital teams of most commercial backers of the Rugby World Cup will be focusing on getting the right marketing message for the right audience and their preparation mantra will be: brand association or recognition; engaging with consumers and creating an emotional bond.
But the organisers of the Rugby World Cup also have responsibilities to use the six-week tournament to grow the game – using social media to connect with new audiences, and inspire people from all backgrounds not just to play rugby but to support the game. Their vision is to celebrate rugby and its unique values, inspire more people – at home and abroad – to play and support the game.
So, on 31 October, when the trophy is handed to the winning captain at Twickenham, it will be interesting to gauge how digital has impacted the popularity and engagement of this great sporting event.
Gavin Megaw is the director of corporate and consumer at Hanover Communications