A case study of the Rabo Direct Pro12 sponsorship…

And so, the end is near…

I was lucky enough to blag a ticket to the Rabo Direct Pro 12 final in the R.D.S. on Saturday. As anyone who follows me or my rugby blog on Twitter will know, I’m a huge Leinster fan. So it was with a heavy heart that I watched an excellent game, bookended by a Leinster win, but more importantly the retirement of two legends of the Irish game.

But that wasn’t the only retirement we witnessed at the weekend.

Amid the orange and blue fanfare, Rabo Direct bid a fond farewell to the Pro 12, after a three year reign.

From the outset, many were cynical about the decision of Rabo, a relatively new online ‘challenger’ bank on the Irish scene, to take up the mantle. The league, while it may provide excellent entertainment come play-off time, often suffers from a lack of quality.

Rabo also have no outlets in Wales, Scotland and Italy, while Magners/Bulmers were surprisingly quick to get off the pot after becoming the first sponsors of the entity formerly known as ‘Celtic League’.

For Rabo, the omens weren’t good.

Execution

However, for the past three years, we’ve witnessed a textbook sponsorship execution.

I’ve spoken before on this blog about the need for sponsorship to be much more than a mere ‘badging’ exercise. Smart facilitation, creating utility and entertaining fans is far more effective than merely placing your logo onto a T.V. ad or some sponsorship hoardings. That’s a key thing for the Vodafone Centre Stage sponsorship that I work on for example, and brands like Red Bull also understand this succinctly.

While the Rabo budget was obviously relatively small compared to a Heineken Cup or Champions League sponsorship, the brand created some very smart digital tools and campaigns, consistently innovated with social and grew both as a business, but also into the role as the sponsorship evolved across the three years.

Here are some examples of that smart innovation that other sponsorship brands could learn from:

RaboInsider & Social

Fans love a behind the scenes look at their teams, and between @RaboInsider and the @RaboDirectPro12 Twitter accounts, plus the RaboDirectPro12 Facebook channel, the brand smartly facilitated that wish. Legends like Keith Wood, Isa Nacewa, Ronan O’Gara and others did special Q&As on the Insider account, lots of great video and imagery from matchdays was provided, and Rabo was never afraid to interact with fans in a smart way.

Tweets like the below are basically catnip for fans, and thus sponsorship reach was increased hugely. 

YouTube

Free, HD highlights of tries and major in game events uploaded to a YouTube channel moments after they happen for every game. Sounds like a difficult thing to do eh? Not for Rabo.

The excellent YouTube channel was started in year 2, and has amassed over 10,000 subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views. Let’s just hope that the new sponsor will maintain this feat, because it’s proven incredibly handy and popular for fans and media outlets alike. Plus, Rabo have likely made a few bob from pre-roll advertising from YouTube too, win-win.

Site Content

Along with game highlights, Rabo also put a huge amount of support behind the RaboPro12 site itself. Regular interviews, player insights and match data combined to make the site a destination for fans, rather than just a brochure for Rabo services with little meaningful rugby content. This method of thinking like a publisher has been replicated across the sponsorship spectrum, and there are hundreds of rugby blogs and media outlets, but Rabo did very well to position itself at the heart of things for fans.

RaboScore

A gamified means to get people to tweet about your hashtag with prizes for the top ‘influencers’ was an incredibly innovative idea two years ago, and still is.

‘Raboscore’ has proven itself as hugely entertaining and immersive part of the sponsorship in the intervening period. The game ‘sorts the fair weather fans from the diehards’ and the winner each year got to present the final MOTM, along with some incredible perks around the final weekend. What a great way to get the notoriously cynical ‘ultras’ on board, in turn creating a buzz around #RaboPro12.

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Instagram

It wasn’t just the usual channels that Rabo activated on either. The brand was an early adopter of Insta, obviously understanding the huge opportunity afforded to them by the great imagery available and access for video content. The account has over 3,500 followers, and some lovely game imagery to boot.

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Stings & Events

Finally, the more mundane stuff like the RTE pre game stings for example were full of humour and brought in Rabo’s overall brand promise of being uncomplicated, straight talking and easy to deal with. While the pre game events for large clashes partnered with 2FM to give the brand even bigger media reach where possible, making for some great listening too.

Passion

While a passion point like sport is much easier to activate than other sponsorships, for me, Rabo illustrated how to use social, digital and ATL in combination to create value for fans, and most importantly, value for the brand. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that they’ll be sorely missed, and the pressure is on the new sponsor (mooted to be either Heineken or Turkish Airlines) to expand and drive the tournament forward again, backed by Sky Sports coverage.

Well done Rabo team, and thanks for you smart, hard work promoting our league!