Rugby is entering a golden period, on and off the field. TV viewing figures for the Aviva Premiership are up 13% and crowds up 10%. The Rugby Football Union doubled revenues last year with profits up a record 37%. England have won 14 consecutive matches (New Zealand hold the record at 18) and go in to February’s 6 Nations as reigning champions.
It’s the sport’s biggest annual tournament, attracting over 125 million TV viewers. It's broadcast in 190+ countries and takes multi-millions in sponsorship money.
Rugby fans are a marketing goldmine – incomes are at least 20% higher than UK average. 71% are social grade AB and they’re more likely to convert across key sectors such as business, finance and automotive.
So, what’s the opportunity for brands to jump on the bandwagon and join the likes of RBS, Accenture, Land Rover, Allianz, Guinness, O2, IBM and Tissot who’ve used rugby for years to reach high-value fans? Luckily for you, here are some simple ideas that don’t require splashing out huge sums on sponsorship.
Signals from the scrum
Great news for brands looking to target rugby fans is that they’re among the most likely to send strong signals they’re engaged at a deeper level than just watching the games on TV.
Nearly half share rugby-related content online, doing so 2.8 times a day, while 7.4 million people follow a 6 Nations team on social media.
This prevalence for sharing content is extremely valuable and relatively easy to harness. For example, a Premiership club wanted to drive match ticket sales so we identified "club engagers" – consumers who regularly shared, engaged with and clicked on sport content, specifically rugby.
This group was targeted with ticket messaging across multiple devices, which delivered a £2.70 return for every £1 spent – a CPA 16% below their target.
The 6 Nations TV schedule is a key trigger for fans beginning to share rugby content with their social connections in large numbers in different ways.
The TV schedule is the third most shared topic across all 6 Nations content as fans start planning how they’ll spend the day around the game, such as where to watch it, with whom and any purchases required to facilitate this, be it travel, sustenance or betting.
Open up the blind side
A major blind spot among marketers is that 77% of rugby content is shared in "dark social" channels – such as email, IM and online forums.
The best way to unlock online sharing behaviour is via sharing tools such as Smart Links (URL shorteners) and sharing widgets that appear around online articles. So make sure you’ve got this plumbing in place around your own properties at least.
The rewards can be huge as this is such an affluent audience. 93% of people sharing rugby content "in the dark" are ABC1s, 62% buy online and 22% share corporate banking and premium credit card content.
Furthermore, fans who share rugby content in dark social are 6x more likely to convert in terms of engaging with 6 Nations advertising.
The average rugby fan owns 3.2 connected devices and 6 Nations viewers are big second-screeners. 55% will actively second screen while watching the match on TV which is a great opportunity for brands to build reach and awareness.
Ad syncing is a great tactic that enables brands to serve online ads related to the TV content. A leading B2B technology brand did this during last year’s 6 Nations tournament achieving click-thru rates 17 times higher than the original goal.
ITV’s AdSync+ enables deeper targeting by adding an extra qualifying layer based on the online content they share and engage with.
For example, supermarket retailer Iceland used AdSync+ and reached an additional 11 million people over and above their TV campaign on unique devices.
It helped deliver a 50% higher CTR vs. their online banners not synced to ITV’s TV ads and a healthy ROI of 3.5 to one.
Be more mobile
Half of rugby fans share content through their mobile and we’ve seen a big increase in interest and brand bookings for this year’s tournament via mobile.
Eighty-three percent of fans in the stadium use their smartphone prior to kick-off while nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds do so during the actual game.
Increasingly connected stadia (Twickenham invested £78m in connecting their stadium before the 2015 World Cup) enables brands to reach and build rapport with fans in a much more engaging, flexible and relevant way.
It goes way beyond creating mobile ad formats and simply optimising campaigns for mobile. Accenture know this and have gone all guns blazing on the official tournament app which brings fans much closer to the game than ever before.
England sponsor O2 gather all their own in-app engagement data in one place so it can be applied programmatically in real-time to campaigns and give a deeper understanding of how rugby fans engage with their marketing activity.
So, while it’s unclear if England will break the record or retain the trophy, there’s no doubt whatsoever about how easy it is for to target a highly desirable online audience to better realise your own commercial ambitions. Scrum down, the 6 Nations 2017 is going to be an exciting ride.
Craig Tuck is RadiumOne’s UK managing director.