Can Unofficial Sponsors Capitalise on Major Sporting Events?

With the Rugby World Cup 2015 nearing completion, this year’s tournament has seen an explosion on social media, particularly Twitter.
Never before have the fans been so in touch with both the competition and Rugby’s global family as a whole.
Four years ago, Twitter was just finding its stride and conversation around #RWC11 totalled to a volume of 1.9 million posts during the 2 month campaign. Having experienced the World Cup in New Zealand first hand, travelling to the other side of the world was as close as you could get to the action, catching glimpses of Rugby legends like Brian O’Driscoll and Richie McCaw strolling the streets of Queen Street, Auckland. Today is a completely different experience. To get a feeling of how the players are reacting, the starting line up, running commentary or post match analysis, all we have to do is turn to Social.
Leveraging Crimson Hexagon’s platform we are able to see the volume trends in conversation, not only for this year’s competition, but for past tournaments. The graph below shows the volume of Twitter posts throughout the 2011 Rugby World Cup and during the week before and after the tournament. From analysing the huge 1,907,649 posts, we can see that the peaks in conversation largely coincide with the major games, the first being the opening ceremony and the last three corresponding to the Quarters, Semis and lastly the Final between the All Blacks and France.
Now compare that to this year’s tournament where we saw 1.1million tweets in the week preceding Kick Off (9th – 17th September) and a staggering 3.4 million in the first week alone (18th – 24th September).Rugby- this year's volume (week leading up to kickoff)This tournament is set to be the most talked about, most viewed, most publicised in history. Almost 10 million viewers tuned into the opening ceremony, making it the most-viewed sports event in the UK to date. Twitter has even added their own unique Emoji’s for each team and hashtag…The Battle of the #Sponsors
But, how are brands capitalising on this massive sporting event? Four years in the planning, official sponsors of the tournament; MasterCard, Heineken, Land Rover, DHL, Societe Generale, Coca Cola (to name but a few), are competing for a slice of the oval shaped action. Sponsors haven’t missed a (tackle) trick in the build up to this hugely anticipated event, with each sponsor having coined their own unique hashtag are encouraging fans to tweet along. Some of the most notable campaigns include; Heineken’s #itsyourcall, Land Rover’s #wedealinreal, Mastercard’s #44daysofcrazy and DHL’s #tackleman.

#44daysofcrazy tweet

#wedealinreal tweet

The graph below compares the share of voice for just some of these fiercely competitive official sponsors.

Share of voice comparison from 2015-09-12 to 2015-10-12

From this, we can see that the majority of the conversation has been dominated by Heineken’s #itsyourcall with 47% share of voice.

More interestingly, we can start to see if the customers are actually associating the hashtags with the brand themselves? Here we find that out of the 11,467 mentions of the #itsyourcall campaign, only 2,400 have explicitly mentioned Heineken, that’s around 20%. This is starking, and brings us to question the worthiness of the campaign, for the brand themselves.
Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 15.32.03
Overall then, we must ask what impact, if any, do these hashtag campaigns have on the brand affiliation and awareness?
The #UnofficialSponsor
Interestingly, there are a number of unofficial sponsors with carefully orchestrated campaigns, which don’t specifically mention the RWC but cleverly associate themselves with the main event. These include:
O2 #weartherose
Samsung #schoolofrugby
Lucozade #onlyforthehomenations
The underdogs in the sponsorship world have got to be O2. England Rugby’s sponsors of 21 years is handled by the RFU therefore allowing them only to be team sponsors, whilst the RWC sponsorship is handled by World Rugby, but that hasn’t stopped them getting involved. Their #weartherose campaign is now synonymous with the tournament dominating the conversation…
rugby world cup SOV
#weartherose number 2
However, what with host England’s disappointing early exit from the tournament, many are criticising O2 for aligning themselves to the team and suggest the global sponsorship partners are more savvy by not picking sides. But what choice did they have, O2 ARE team sponsors, always have been and isn’t that what a tournaments all about – picking sides? It remains to be seen the impact of England’s early departure on O2’s marketing campaign. Though they state they are resolute in supporting England Rugby. Standing beside them. Always. As am I.
That Japan Game…
On to who have got to be the sweethearts of the tournament, the true underdogs and arguably the most exciting and momentous win of all time…Japan vs South Africa.

 An astonishing 3,835 posts with the hashtag #JPNvSA have been sent to date. Surprisingly surpassing the volume peak of any other game to date.

jpn v sa
As both the word cloud and the tweet show, sentiment around #JPNvSA is wholly positive. People were not only shocked and surprised with the win, but also incredibly happy. Many even went as far to say it was the best victory they’d witnessed yet.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.10.48

The Billion Pound Game

With all that said though, the early exit of hosts England is reported to be a huge revenue loss for sponsors and the economy as a whole. It may be too early to tell. The next blog will be analysing the conversations of the Quarters, Semis and Finals to understand whether the host nation’s voice has bowed out, just like their national team and also crowning the Marketing Campaign Winner with their very own William Webb Ellis trophy.
RWC aside, how can other brands capitalise from unofficial sponsorship of major sporting events in the way O2 have? With 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Paralympics and Euro’s just around the corner as well as the Women’s Rugby World Cup and British and Irish Lions Tour in 2017, sponsorship deals have been agreed well in advance. However, could jumping on the #bandwagon be a more cost-effective and broader marketing strategy for those brands who haven’t signed an official deal? If so, it still remains to be seen whether backing a horse (like O2 and England) is a risky tactic rather than focusing on an event as a whole.

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