Ciesco’s Colin Wheeler: the brands winning the Rugby World Cup are supporting the tournament not one team

So we are finally there, or to be precise New Zealand and Australia are. After 44 days and 44 matches (45 with the bronze medal match on Friday evening) these two rugby giants, only separated by the Tasman Sea, will contest an all-Antipodean Final on Saturday at Twickenham.

So the final follows the pattern of recent rugby league and cricket world cup finals. The opponents will know each other well. They say that the cream rises to the top and I think that most will objectively agree that these two sides certainly merit being there.

It’s been a pulsating six weeks with practically every rugby world cup record being broken on a continuous basis. Record number of tickets sold, highest overall attendances, highest individual stadium attendances – Wembley Stadium broke the world record attendance for a rugby match twice within one week – record TV viewership and ratings, record number of social media interactions, record partner and sponsorship money committed – these impressive stats go on and on.

I particularly liked NHK TV channel in Japan recording in-market live viewership figures of just over 25 million for the Samoa vs Japan match (below) played at Stadium MK. The game kicked off at 10.30pm local in Japan and resulted in world record viewing figures for a live televised rugby match in any one domestic country. The brave blossoms won that one 5 -26 but despite winning three group games did not make it to the next stage. It seems a long time ago when they first captured our hearts and minds with that brilliant victory over the Springboks in Brighton.

The tournament created more social media interactions in the first weekend than the entire tournament in 2011. 120m people had viewed the official RWC2015 video content via social media by October 12. 98 per cent of match tickets were sold, over 2.41 million – but many flooded back onto the market, officially and unofficially, after England’s demise. But more of that later.

Stadium MK broke their attendance record (for the second time in the tournament) with 30,048 turning up for the Fiji vs Uruguay match proving that people wanted to experience RWC2015 regardless of the teams actually playing. Uruguay was great value throughout and Fiji, not England, can count themselves as being unlucky to be drawn into the group of death. So much brilliant rugby bringing so much pleasure.

Then there was the pain. Initially when England capitulated against Wales and a further seven days later with the resounding defeat against Australia. England, the hosts, out at the group stage. Unheard of previously. World Rugby took a huge intake of breath. However you viewed it, the tournament suffered because of it. The effect on the overall economy – between two and four billion pounds lost depending on the source you read and believe, and lost interest certainly from the occasional supporters.

As for the TV ratings, England’s early exit also meant that potential quarter and semi-final matches that they would have appeared in would certainly affect the ratings and the brands that had bought into the ad breaks. Apparently ITV had held back ad slots for the final rounds on the basis of an increased premium for brands being able to capitalise on successful England performances and a pathway to the Final.

Not to be. England vs Wales achieved circa 12m viewers whilst Australia vs Argentina got 2.9m. It speaks for itself. Those sponsors who took the route of supporting the host nation via online and offline campaigns found themselves in a conundrum. O2 had encouraged fans to “Make the England players giants” and wear the rose in support. A huge campaign brought to an abrupt halt although O2 have indicated that they intend to carry on this approach into 2016 and into the Six Nations tournament.

The campaign could not possibly have delivered all its objectives by the time England’s early exit arrived. There was no contingency plan in place – but with an effort of this magnitude it was unlikely that was considered. Unlucky, or not smart enough?

Lucozade adopted the strategy of getting behind the four home nations with the ‘for home nations only’ campaign. Apart from England, all made it through to the knock-out stages allowing greater longevity and credibility for campaign and brand. Many others took a global approach, working alongside ambassadors from a number of nations or focusing on their rights, such as Beats by Dre, Heineken and Guinness. This strategy and direction seems to have paid off.

The positives across this tournament so far have far outweighed any negatives. World Rugby is sure to be trying to tempt more brand into this successful club because the sport has the opportunity to go from strength to strength. Whilst the RFU in England demonstrated yet again that it hasn’t the structure, method, personnel and reliability to mount a serious challenge on the field, it brilliantly proved off the field that it had the ability to host and help manage the finest Rugby World Cup to date. Brett Gosper and his team at World Rugby have set the bar high and Japan 2019 will be an enormous challenge,

RWC2015 will be a hard act to follow but they should be rightly proud of what they achieved throughout this tournament.

For the Final itself – Me, I’ll stick with my initial prediction. Australia will run New Zealand close but I think that those All Blacks will once again find a way, and take the trophy back with them to the land of the long white cloud.

16d317eColin Wheeler is an associate partner at media and marketing services advisory firm Ciesco.

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