Colin Wheeler: why the Rugby World Cup is closing fast on football and the Olympics

Well here we go. The waiting is (nearly) over. Four years on from New Zealand in 2011 the Rugby World Cup 2015 arrives on our shores. Or to be precise – lands in England and Wales. But it hasn’t just arrived of course. Preparation started immediately after that last final in Auckland, and in fact well before. With huge logistics being put in place, this World Cup has been in the cooking pot with so many delicious ingredients thrown in for some time – and with a comparatively quick follow-up to the Olympics in 2012, London and the many other city multi-site venues across England and Wales can’t wait to show off their know-how in successfully running a global sporting event.

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With ticket sales expecting to reach the 2.45 million mark and with TV broadcast rights sold to over 200 territories worldwide, this will be the biggest, most followed, most viewed and most flamboyant Rugby World Cup in history. In fact, it is now the world’s third largest sporting event behind the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. It’s a far cry from 1987 and the inaugural Rugby World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand (below). The game was still in the amateur era then. It was still thought of as a somewhat old colonial or commonwealth created game played by and supported by middleclass people in a select number of countries.

In 1987 with the antipodean time-zone the coverage was after the event and not in real time. There was not a full-on sponsorship programme and only a few, mainly Japanese, brands had signed up but only to really ‘support’ the tournament – not to invest and engage with consumers, and reap the benefits with brand building promotional activity.
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How times have changed and how rugby union has matured and has become a viable if not compulsive sponsorship and promotional opportunity for local and multinational brands and businesses – and how the big boys have jumped in quickly, eager to be associated with and to engage with both existing and new consumers.

Rugby World Cup 2015 is expected to generate up to £2.2 billion of output into the UK economy. Around 41,000 jobs will be carrying the tournament along, and the 11 host cities will massively benefit economically as 20 national teams compete in 48 matches. You will not be able to avoid the matches on TV. ITV has the contract and is, of course, a free to air broadcaster. RWC 2015 is forecast to reach a total global audience of around 4 billion.

GosperBrett Gosper (left) is CEO World Rugby (that’s head of the IRB headquartered in Dublin, to you and me). Gosper has been working tirelessly to ensure that RWC2015 has attracted both the calibre of sponsors and partners, and the money injection to help get this major event singing sweetly. His success here is not surprising having spent the majority of his career in senior positions working with multinational blue chip clients across multi categories within some of the world’s leading advertising and communication agencies – including McCann Erikson, TBWA Chiat Day, Euro Wnek Gosper and BDDP. Combine that with great insights into playing the game itself having played at a senior level, including for his home state Victoria and then later for Racing in Paris – as they say, the boy from Melbourne ‘’done good’’.

More than good in fact. Approaching RWC2015, Gosper and his team have secured seven recognised sponsors that they position as Worldwide Partners – Mastercard, Heineken, Land Rover, DHL, Emirates, Societe General and Fujitsu. Brands and organisations long associated either with the game of rugby itself or heavily involved with other sporting events and tournaments. In other words, organisations and brands who feel that they know how to get the best out of a huge sponsorship opportunity, engage with customers and where they can collect and use the data for further engagement, activity and learning. You can also add other recognisable names such as Coca-Cola, Canon and Toshiba who are heavily involved at Official Sponsor level. Even Clifford Chance as official law firm and EY as official business advisor have got themselves into the game. Although all partners and sponsors will see this as being much more than just a game.

This elite has driven sponsorship revenue up by some 50 per cent since the last World Cup. But still these elite sponsors will be aware of the curse of ambush marketing. RWC2015 promises to be tough on ambush marketers. They will not want their brand and image dented. Apparently the organisers have secured all outdoor media sites close to all venues to help prevent this.

RWC’s organiser World Rugby has stated, “Rugby World Cup 2015 is on track to be the best-attended, most-viewed, most-socially engaged and most competitive Rugby World Cup to date and the commercial success of the 2015 edition, coupled with New Zealand 2011, is enabling World Rugby to invest more than £340 million in the development of rugby from the playground to the podium across 120 nations.” That’s some statement.

Of course we will all be waiting to see and hear exactly how social media behaves. Social media will drive awareness, comment and controversy. RWC2015 will thrive on it – be it good, bad or ugly. We have already heard “will this tournament even overtake FIFA 2014 for social interaction – will we reach saturation point?’’ The answer simply is – we do not even know what saturation point looks or feels like ….RWC2015 is set to break all kinds of records. Supporters and consumers, and brands, and the tournament overall will thrive on it.

As for the matches themselves, I think that the deeper we get into the tournament the tighter the games will become. There won’t be much in it from the quarter final stage onwards. All World Cups, bar the odd exception, are won by a close margin. Fans will recognise this. Sponsors will recognise this ….and RWC2015 will head for success. Me? I want that sweet chariot to carry them home but I fear that those All Blacks will have just a little too much power for all of us. Then it’s on to Japan in 2019.
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Colin Wheeler is an associate partner at media and marketing services advisory firm Ciesco.

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    Dear Colin,

    Excellent piece and an eye-opener for the round-ball-chaps, I hope.

    By the way: Extremely belated apologies for taking advantage of your generosity when you drove me and my mates from Chiswick to Cardiff on November 6, 1999…. forsaking a pint or 4 in order to do so.
    I have felt guilty about that ever since.

    Cheers Mate,

    RJ.