Nowadays the Rugby World Cup is a pretty big deal, tucked neatly behind the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup as one of the most watched sports tournaments in the world. So naturally the commercialisation of rugby's biggest competition has become big business, and also a fantastic opportunity for brands to reach an affluent global audience.
After the announcement that the RWC would be taking place in England in 2015, the usual suspects, as well as a few other brands, started to make moves and lock in official sponsorships with the IRB for the rights to have their brands associated with the global tournament.
But what are they getting? Well, with an estimated 466,000 international visitors flocking to England for this year's competition and a global audience across 207 territories, brands have the chance to reach and engage with key domestic and international markets such as Australia, New Zealand and USA.
But, as we have recently found in the Premier League, brands that aren't activating their sponsorships and engaging with fans are kicking their sponsorship cash into touch.
With that in mind, and the start of this year's competition just around the corner, we've taken a look at some of the best sponsorship activations, from a brand, consumer and fan perspective.
Coca-Cola Ball Amnesty
In recent years, the soft drink giant has come under scathing criticism for the high amount of sugar in its drinks. It's this criticism that has influenced its marketing strategy to tackle this issue by its monopolisation of major world sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, Olympics and now the 2015 Rugby World Cup, as the brand encourages its consumers to get active.
To kick off its Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign and launch its biggest-ever rugby on-pack promotion, giving consumers the chance to win one of one million Coca-Cola rugby balls, Coke took over Potters Field, London. By hosting its Ball Amnesty with World Cup winners Mike Tindall, Emily Scarratt and Natasha Hunt, the brand encouraged Londoners to trade in any old ball for an exclusive Rugby World Cup Gilbert replica ball.
I'm a big fan of this activation for lots of reasons. Firstly it engaged the public and helped to introduce them to the World Cup. Secondly it gives rugby fans some exclusive merchandise (which we love), and thirdly it meets the brief and encourages consumers to get active - it's hard not to throw a rugby ball around when you have one in your hands, trust me.
Canterbury England World Cup Shirt Launch Treasure Hunt
Moving slightly away from tournament sponsorship to team sponsorship, Canterbury recently launched its 2015 Rugby World Cup England collection, with one of my favourite social media campaigns to date.
The rugby sportswear brand aimed to drum up support for the national team with a shirt giveaway, like no other. Aiming to reward England fans' commitment, Canterbury gave away a select number of commemorative limited edition England shirts by dropping crates containing three shirts in selected locations around the country, with the first three people to reach it winning a shirt from the crate.
Encouraging users to engage with its social media channels, the brand gave the co-ordinates for the crates' locations via Vine posts on Canterbury's Twitter account - @CanterburyNZ.
By choosing to directly to engage with fans, Canterbury kept its followers glued to its Twitter feed as it unveiled more locations. This is one of those campaigns that make you go, 'Damn, I wish I'd thought of that.'
The O2 England Washing Line
Another shirt-based activation (you may have guessed I'm a big fan of rugby shirts) and another PR launch in Potters Field, London (after all, the press do love Tower Bridge).
Don't let my cynicism fool you, O2's activation of its #WeartheRose campaign is actually brilliant, and a great example of how a brand can reward its customers with a sponsorship partner.
To help promote its #WeartheRose campaign, the mobile telecoms provider has hung up 50,000 England rugby shirts on washing lines in different locations across the country, offering the public the chance to win an England rugby shirt, as well as hoping to build support for the national team ahead of the Rugby World Cup. The official shirts were hung on a giant washing line at the average rugby line-out height of three metres. To win one, all fans had to do was climb on a friend's shoulders and grab one.
What I especially like about this activation is its simplicity. The shirts on a washing line make a fantastic press photo, especially when you throw in three current England players, which also creates social media engagement with the public. And as we've seen previously, England rugby fans love free rugby shirts and O2's giveaway mechanic is easy enough to enter without scaring people off.
This is exactly the kind of campaign I want as a customer of a brand sponsoring one of my favourite events and it's another reason why I believe wholeheartedly that O2 is leading the way with its England Rugby sponsorship strategy. Not to mention the O2 Inside Line videos, with behind the scenes footage of the England camp. The brand has a clear understanding of its audience's needs and delivers over and over again. As a fan, I'm continually looking for updates from O2, be it competitions, exclusive access or a chance to be part of their #RoseArmy of select England fan ambassadors.
So that was my top three, so far. I'm sure there will be a plethora of activations coming up as the Rugby World Cup buzz gathers speed. Will they help England win the World Cup? Maybe not, but these activations are increasing my enjoyment of the tournament as a fan, and opening me up to new brands and their values.
The Aberfield team has widespread experience of helping brands reach, and engage with, audiences in numerous sports, including football, golf, motor sport, horse racing, cricket and snooker. To discuss how we could help you gain a better return on your sports sponsorship investments, please contact Christian Dente on 0113 880 0444.