Rugby’s ‘niche’ status offers brands a huge opportunity

Long seen as too niche a sport for certain major sponsors, tomorrow (18th September) evening’s opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup is the perfect opportunity for brands to communicate the game’s unique story.

Let’s face it… football’s story has been done to death by sponsors. While there is no doubting the game’s ongoing relevance, there have been enough ads featuring moody centre forwards flogging trainers and soft drinks to get an understanding of what the game is all about.

In comparison, rugby – especially if you don’t really understand the rules – is a game ripe for emotional messaging.

The bandwagon fans – most likely to be mums according to ad intelligence firm Exponential – are hungry to understand what the fuss is all about. Marketers must seize the moment.

Guinness for one has already stepped up the plate by showing rugby’s ties to equality and societal change.

Its campaign features former Wales rugby player Gareth Thomas, who played more than 100 times for Wales and hid his sexuality from his teammates until he came out as gay in 2009. It perfectly sums up the sport and its diverse fans, while telling a story that resonates with the wider world.

O2’s animated ad encouraging people to get behind the England rugby team also hits the right note. A leading sports sponsorship honcho recently told MW over lunch that brands “must tap into the voice of rugby fans as they are rare in their ability to actually raise a team’s performance.” O2’s “Make Them Giants” messaging certainly appears to heed that advice.

However, most of the campaigns are too regional, going after the local fan rather than the global audience.

Step forward Beats. Fresh from its success in the football World Cup, it’s now targeting the world of rugby.

Speaking to Marketing Week, its EVP of global marketing Omar Johnson admitted the move is a risk.

“Of course it is a risk as the sport is perhaps niche but we think rugby is ripe for the Beats’ seed of emotion,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity to bridge rugby into wider popular culture.”

As rugby prepares to take centre stage over the next six weeks, lets hope more brands share Johnson’s ambition.

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