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  Who won the Rugby Sponsor World Cup?


The Rugby World Cup is over and the post mortem has well and truly begun.  Despite disappointment for the Northern Hemisphere teams, the Rugby World Cup has continued to grow and has attracted record TV audiences in Ireland. The Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of competitive rugby and for brands that engage fans through rugby sponsorship, it is a vital opportunity to differentiate and cut through the clutter.

Why brands sponsor rugby?

Over the past four years The Brand Fans rugby impact modeling has demonstrated the effectiveness of rugby for brands. When a rugby sponsorship is brought to life with a combination of strong fan insights and effective use of integrated marketing channels, rugby sponsorship drives high levels of engagement with Irish fans and delivers some of the strongest brand equity, loyalty and consideration uplifts of any sport sponsorship. Rugby and Irish professional rugby players are seen as very accessible and brands are keen to align to rugby’s honesty, leadership and commitment brand qualities. Rugby has been on an ascendency in Ireland and the next four years will see increased activity from sponsors, however this will also come with higher added value expectation from fans.

Who were the strongest Rugby World Cup brands in Ireland?

The Brand Fans Rugby Impact Tracker analysed the top brands in rugby in Ireland through campaign impact modeling, social media listening and independent insights in partnership with Amárach Research before and during the Rugby World Cup. Social media listening is scored as an aggregate of reach, sentiment, influence and impact to give a balanced view of the impact a brand is making. We give a run-down of the top 3 brands in Ireland from the Rugby World Cup and some additional notable campaigns from this year’s tournament.

So who won the rugby battle of the brands?

HeinekenThe clear winner for 2015 was Heineken. A massive 80% of all adults in Ireland declared Heineken as a brand associated with the Rugby World Cup rising from a pre tournament starting point of 50% and a full 46% higher than the next nearest brand. Heineken also recorded the highest social listening aggregate score at 7.4. So why are Heineken the clear winners of the Rugby Brand World Cup in Ireland? Firstly it’s not all about awareness built up through branding and TV advertising – although that helped! Heineken Ireland led the global brief to develop the Rugby World Cup campaign idea on behalf of the other Heineken Rugby markets and this was brought to life through the #ItsYourCall campaign. ‘It’s Your Call’ was effectively delivered through all consumer channels with a charming wit and consistency that engaged fanatic and arm-chair rugby fans alike. The campaign kicked off with ‘The Machine’, a viral video piece with Rugby World Cup legend Jonah Lomu surprising rugby fans in a North Dublin pub. The video had over 4 million views and set the tone for Heineken’s approach to the Rugby World Cup. This piece also introduced the ‘coin toss’ which gave fans the chance to win the opportunity to present the coin for the official coin toss before the Ireland games as well as hundreds of other prizes. An amazing prize with the winner selected on TV3’s ‘The Sin Bin’. In pub and off trade visibility, competitions, PR, social content, video content with Shane Horgan and Stephen Ferris and partnerships with TV3 and Newstalk’s Off The Ball all combined to build a truly effective campaign for Heineken and cement their number 1 spot in rugby in Ireland.

Gareth Edwards - GuinnessIn second place in Ireland was Guinness peaking at 36% of Irish adults naming them as a Rugby World Cup sponsor. Guinness has a strong rugby heritage and the brand’s #MadeofMore positioning was at the heart of the campaign. Guinness profiled the personal struggles of two rugby players Gareth Edwards of Wales and Springbok Ashwin Willemse. The films demonstrated what legends are made of and the importance of the support of team mates. With a social listening score of 4.9, these powerful stories brought the Guinness brand idea to life for rugby and non-rugby fans. Reactive social posts also used iconic Guinness imagery to capture key moments in the tournament like Japan’s win over South Africa. Guinness was not an official Rugby World Cup sponsor, so the brand driven campaign was strong on emotion with high production values. Guinness however was less visible than Heineken in pubs and off licences and had less overall impact through social media.

Three IrelandIn third place was Ireland team sponsor Three Mobile. At the highest point, 22% of adults placed Three as a sponsor of the Rugby World Cup with social listening scoring 5.7. With team sponsorship comes access and Three used the players to offer fans insights into the team. The campaign #AllitTakes is everything used powerful player content to give fans a behind the scenes view of the dedication, sacrifice and commitment required to play at the top level. Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw featured in TV advertising and were joined by other team mates for social video content pieces. Social posts and competitions engaged fans throughout the tournament building anticipation to each game. Rugby World Cup rules means Three’s brand was not allowed on team jerseys which limited visibility but the overall campaign impact was strong and effective for the brand.

Outside of the top three, there are other brands in rugby that registered strongly on The Brand Fans Rugby Impact Tracker.

Aer Lingus produced an effective and highly visible campaign showing their support for the Ireland Team. 13% of Irish adults name Aer Lingus as a Rugby World Cup sponsor. 13% may not seem high but given that the brand does not have a particular legacy in rugby, this is a very strong performance and Aer Lingus deserve credit for a fun and creative campaign and in particular their use of the players for a new rendition of Ireland’s Call, a new on board safety announcement and the Ireland team livery on selected aircraft.

Mastercard registered with 17% of Irish adults naming them as a Rugby World Cup sponsor. With socially driven activation, Mastercard used their official Rugby World Cup sponsorship assets to engage fans through co-created content, competitions and prizes such as the man of the match presentation.

Bank of Ireland also registered with a quarter of all Irish adults naming them as a sponsor – which they are not! With no official link to the Irish Rugby team or the Rugby World Cup and activation limited to some social activation with Mastercard, Bank of Ireland still managed to reach 25% during September. This demonstrates the power of a sustained presence in rugby and the impact that has with fans, although it will cause some concerns amongst brands investing in Rugby World Cup sponsorship.

Emirates, Coca-Cola, Paddy Power, Land Rover, DHL, Canon, Toshiba, Subway and Dove all registered on The Brand Fans Rugby Impact Tracker which demonstrates how competitive this landscape is off the pitch and how powerful rugby has become as a method for brands to engage with fans.

The World Cup is over but with strong sponsorship results the battle for the hearts and minds of the rugby fan in Ireland will continue. Japan 2019 will present different challenges for Irish brands in rugby but in the mean time the Champions Cup and even the 6 Nations are only around the corner.

Daragh Persse, The Brand Fans 


Daragh Persse
The Brand Fans

Daragh Persse is the founder and CEO of The Brand Fans, Ireland’s most experienced sponsorship specialists. They are a full service sponsorship agency that focus on creating long-lasting and valuable relationships between brands and fans.

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