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Tackling fanbases at the Rugby World Cup
29/09/2014

With the Rugby World Cup set to take place on England’s home turf in less than a year, excitement amongst fans is gaining momentum. Demand for tickets is intensifying and more and more brands are looking to kick off their campaigns to take advantage of and further fuel the ‘(F)anticipation’ in the run up to the biggest tournament in international Rugby. As the countdown to the competition begins, our strategic planning and insight department Fanatic have been working to understand exactly what drives this passionate fan base and identify where the opportunities lie.

As well as running research with rugby fans in the UK to produce our Rugby World Cup Infographic, we invited Rugby sensation and England international Kyle Eastmond to our Manchester office to talk to Owen Laverty, Head of Fanatic, about next year’s competition. In addition to revealing some valuable behind-the-scenes insights, our interview with Kyle also highlighted a number of key learning’s and opportunities for brands, which we have been exploring in our wider research around the World Cup…

A Growing Fan Base

As the world counts down to 2015, the global fan base will swell to encompass millions of passionate, irrational and devotional fans in over 200 countries. This includes both hard-core fanatics as well as more casual spectators who have no interest for the other 3 years and 11 months between each competition. This provides brands with a bigger than ever opportunity to connect with a captive audience, swept up in the emotion and drama of a global sporting phenomenon. Particularly in the UK, excitement will be at an all-time high in anticipation of such a huge sporting spectacle taking place on our doorstep, opening up the UK fan base to a much wider demographic.

A Unique Opportunity

However, it isn’t just the scale of this growing fan base which provides such a valuable opportunity for brands – it is the unique characteristics of rugby fans. Fans of rugby are known to be extremely loyal, particularly towards their national team, often travelling across the world to cheer for their country. 85% of UK fans we surveyed said they were bigger fans of their national team than of their favourite professional team, a devotion even more pronounced in World Cup years. This national loyalty sets rugby apart from other sports where professional team fandom takes precedence and means that next year’s event will see fans at their most passionate, especially in the UK where spectators will have the added emotional weight of cheering for their country as part of a huge home crowd.
Something else brands should take into account when considering how to connect with rugby fans is the close relationship between fans and players. We know that allowing fans to get closer to their idols is hugely important and Kyle advocated how, in rugby, there are still lots of opportunities for interaction around games, highlighting a key access point for brands to connect with fans if they can help to facilitate this.

Culture Shift

Alongside the growth of the sport, and change in fan base demographic which typically accompanies global sporting events such as World Cups, there is also a changing demographic in terms of players, contributing to a cultural shift within the game. Oldham born and raised, Kyle talked about the growing number of players who have come from more working-class backgrounds and have taken an alternative route into the sport. Unlike the majority of his teammates at Bath Rugby, Kyle’s route to the team was unconventional, having previously played rugby league at St Helens until his move to Bath and transition to union in 2011. Alongside having to adapt to a different game, this move has also meant a shift in fan base from league to union – fan bases traditionally positioned as contrasting. In bridging this gap between the two sports and in acting as a role model to encourage youngsters from a diverse range of backgrounds to get into the sport through his KE Next Generation Awards initiative, Kyle is amongst a number of players contributing to a cultural shift within rugby and helping to widen the fan base demographic.

Rituals & Music

One of the key take-outs from our research and speaking to Kyle was the importance of rituals in rugby. Rugby is host to the most iconic sporting ritual in the world, the Haka, and rituals are ingrained in the fabric of the game for both players and fans. Kyle gave us a behind-the-scenes insight into pre-game rituals in the England dressing room including one player known to shave his legs before every game as well as talking about the importance of ‘pre-game’ music in bringing the team together before a game. Similarly, these powerful shared rituals are central to the group mentality of fans. 30% of fans we spoke to named specific rituals they follow around World Cup games, from wearing lucky socks, to always sitting in the exact same seat, to standing with the whole family to sing the national anthem, providing brands with an amazing opportunity to connect with fan bases if they can authentically tap into these existing behaviours.

Understanding Fans

All of this provides brands with a unique opportunity to activate around the competition and tap into these fan bases. However, with so many brands vying for attention, understanding these fans is key to taking advantage of the limited time frame between now and the start of the tournament. Our in-depth understanding of fan rituals and behaviours, our unique cross-cultural approach and our experience and expertise in connecting brands with fan bases means we create campaigns which resonate with commercially lucrative fan bases. To see how you can connect with rugby fans around next years competition, call us…

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