Rugby, Sponsorship & Hospitality – The winners and losers of RWC 2015

By in Hospitality Programs, Sponsorship Activation, Thought Pieces

The 31 man squads have been announced, the team welcome ceremonies are ongoing and the countdown to kick off at 8pm this Friday is well and truly on.  England (and Cardiff!) are about to play host to the biggest spectacle in World Rugby.  The curtain is about to be raised on Rugby World Cup 2015.  For 5 weeks we shall be treated to hard tackles, lightning runs, spectacular tries and hopefully the odd edge-of-your-seat match winning drop goal.

For those of us loyal to the red rose of England the memories of that nail biting night in Sydney in 2003 are still vivid.  What an amazing opportunity we now have to join hands with our friends (& fiercest rivals) in Wales to host such an event on our own turf.   But where, oh where, has the excitement and hype been hiding? And who will be the real winners and losers both on and off the pitch?

Twickenham, synonymous with the Guinness tent and vast consumption of the black stuff, will be turned Heineken green.  There are rumours that pubs are going to shut at 10pm even though most matches don’t kick off until 8pm, and that there’s a 500 metre exclusion zone around the venues within which sponsor competitor product cannot be sold……seems reasonable enough and standard practice for an event of this nature but how rigorously will this be policed?  Does this mean the off licence on the Whitton Road will have to clear its shelves of non-sponsor product?

In the build up to London 2012, there was no opportunity to be obtuse to the event or its sponsors and ambassadors, it was everywhere for months before the Opening Ceremony.  The same cannot be said for RWC 2015 which seems to have somewhat crept up on the blindside in only the last week or so.  From a marketers perspective it seems that any RWC sponsorship activation has been left until the very last moment and, unlike the Olympics, their profile in the build-up has been pretty minimal.  Hands up, who has really seen any RWC sponsor promotion before this week?  Société Générale, Heineken, Mastercard, Emirates, DHL & Land Rover are RWC’s global partners.  DHL and Land Rover have been instrumental in the Trophy Tour which seems to have been a great success at engaging with local communities, charities, schools etc.  Heineken will succeed with the enormous opportunity it has with the consumer market, the others are whirring into action now seemingly.

The Rugby World Cup with a global audience of close 800 million is clearly a fantastic platform to engage with target audiences.  Moreover, when compared to football and the Olympics its ‘cost’ is comparatively good value for sponsors.  What I am unclear about is why the global partners have, with a couple of exceptions, left it so late to engage and activate.  Conversely, both O2 and Samsung appear to have maximised their England Team sponsor status opportunity.  Whilst their branding will not be seen adorning any of the players’ kit or ad boards during the matches, hats must be doffed to the ‘Wear the Rose’ and hilarious ‘Samsung School of Rugby’ initiatives which have, in my opinion, raised their profile far above that of some of the official RWC partners. Smart marketing spend.

ITV have the broadcast rights here in the UK, I always think that adds a fun dimension.  It’s their ‘once every four years’ highest profile rugby offering and they manage to amass the best of the presenters from SKY, BT Sport and BBC’s rugby correspondents into their team.  I bet that wrap party will be anything but a quiet affair: O’Driscoll, Bayfield, Pienaar, Fitzpatrick, Dallaglio, Woodward and, of course, Wilkinson to name a few.

The real winners of this Rugby World Cup to date do seem to be the Class of 2003.  I think there’s been a rugby dinner every night for the last 2 weeks which have been well populated by the old warriors.  I actually wonder/worry if Misters Dallaglio and Wilkinson will even make it to kick off on Friday night such has been their profile with sponsors, dinners, commentary, twitter feeds and the like in the last few weeks.

So yes, hay is undoubtedly being made whilst the rugby sun shines. However there is charitable gain also being harvested as well as that of personal and corporate gain.  What has been great to see is the absolute passion and commitment that the rugby community demonstrate to the charities close to its heart at the various dinners and celebrations over the last few weeks.

There is no denying that the hefty ticket prices have excluded some key fans for the high profile games.  Official hospitality packages are also out of sight for the ordinary rugby folk and even to corporates it seems.  With VIP hospitality prices around £1000 a head proving too steep, packages are still available to purchase and I’ve had no less than 3 ‘Last Chance to buy’ emails just today.

The safe money is on the mighty All Blacks regaining their crown, the unpredictable French seem to be the ‘dark horse’ option and then there’s this old faithful who dreams of a certain Mr Robshaw lifting the Webb Ellis Cup come October 31st at around 5:30 at Twickenham HQ.

My bet is that the biggest winners commercially will be the plethora of public houses showing the games.  Put on your team shirt, tune up your voice, sharpen up your banter and let the entertainment begin.   I hope the true essence of rugby is captured and the traditions held true: camaraderie, honour and respect.  5 weeks of rugby heaven, woohoo, scrum down.


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