Sponsorship of major sporting events has always been a hugely attractive prospect to large multinational brands. The commercial rewards can be great, and ever since the advent of professional sport brands have been shelling out fortunes just to have their name alongside some of our favourite teams and competitions.
However, for too long brands have been investing money in high profile rights without any clear underlying strategy, thinking their job’s done as soon as they’ve signed the cheque. Brands that do not have a strong association with the sport they’re involved with as well as a clear activation strategy underestimate the level of consumer cynicism they will be greeted with. The only way to around this is to ensure that a sponsorship deal contributes positively to the overall experience of an event, creating a relationship based on more than just vague association.
Now entering the knockout stages, The 2015 Rugby World Cup has seen tournament sponsors use increasingly innovative and creative activation strategies in order to engage consumers and maximise reward. None more so than official sponsors Land Rover, whose “We Deal in Real” grassroots rugby campaign and worldwide tour of the Web Ellis trophy have added real value to fans experience of the competition. Despite the host’s humiliating early exit the same can also be said of England sponsor 02, who have given away over 80,000 rugby shirts and created a virtual reality experience that put users in the midst of an England training session.
As a sport, Rugby’s sponsorship appeal is increasing all the time. First of all the sport has a clear set of values and principles that many brands strive to reflect upon themselves – teamwork, respect, strength. Secondly, it is one of the world’s fastest growing sports, with a spot at Rio in next year’s Olympics and a TV audience of 4 billion forecast to enjoy this World Cup. Looking forward, the future of rugby sponsorship is bright.
However as this tournament has also demonstrated, the acquisition of expensive sponsorship rights is not the only way for a brand to create hype around a particular event. Wonderfully executed guerrilla marketing campaigns from the likes of Lucozade, Guinness and Beats have blurred the lines between who is an who isn’t an official sponsor and in turn questioned if expensive activation rights are even worthwhile.
The potency of such guerrilla marketing has inspired another important development in the sponsorship model; increasing involvement of rights sellers in the activation space. Throughout the tournament we’ve observed World Rugby give official sponsors access to unprecedented privileges in an attempt to justify their huge investment and restore the power balance between official sponsors and the not-so-official sponsors mentioned above; Mastercard’s control over the Man-of-the-Match award, Heineken’s management of the coin toss, the list goes on.
Overall brand involvement in the Rugby World Cup has certainly been a step in the right direction, moving away from the logo-centred sponsorship of yesteryear towards a more engaging and fulfilling model of brand association in sport. We can only hope that Euro 2016 and the Rio Olympics follow suit.