Rugby sponsorship brands turn to statistics to create value for fans

As you’ll probably know if you follow me on Twitter or follow my rugby blog, I’m a rugby nut.
Sports marketing and sponsorship is an area that’s constantly evolving and improving and with a sport as popular and ‘respectable’ as rugby union, there are huge opportunities for brands to create sponsorship value.

O2 for example sponsor both the Irish and English national sides and do a great job showing the behind the scenes angle. Meanwhile, RBS, Heineken and Bank of Ireland are other brands that have had success with sponsorship activity, creating long lasting meaningful associations with successful teams and entities.

O2 Ireland’s rugby sponsorship this year focused on saying goodbye to Brian O’Driscoll.

In my day job, I work with the likes of Vodafone and Guinness on the sponsorship end of things, two of Ireland’s most relevant sponsors across music and sport.

I’m lucky to be working with two brands that understand the need to create real value for fans, improve a consumer’s experience of their passion point and to credibly embed into a culture. For me, great sponsorships are much more than just ‘badging’ opportunities, they’re about facilitation and and if you look at the likes of Red Bull, Budweiser and Under Armour, that’s certainly a worldwide trend too.

While content is a key part of this, realistically, anyone can create blogs, articles and video – the majority of smart sponsorships now revolve around content portals. So brands are asking ‘how can we gain an edge in such a crowded space?’

In rugby, like in most sports, data analysis is quickly becoming one of key skill sets for any backroom team. Small margins win tournaments, as we saw at the weekend, and the ‘Moneyball’ phenomenon is taking over the game.

Rugby fans also love stats. If you kept an eye on the 6 Nations hashtag on Twitter over the weekend, you’ll likely have seen tweets about the number of rucks a certain player hit, the number of offloads France attempted or how many metres a certain full back ran.

However, there’s usually very limited access to that type of data for fans. Opta will only release info to journalists via a paid account for example, and the ESPN Scrum data is often incorrect or incomplete. For that reason, smart brands are turning to stats to create sponsorship value, arming users with information that they can take and use to impress their mates down the pub, or merely improve their understanding of the game.

Here are a few great examples of this trend:

Vodacom Super 15 Stats App

Vodacom South Africa are one of the main rugby sponsors in an oval ball mad country, and have created an excellent accompaniment to any fan’s experience. Tapping into the second screen behaviour, the Super 15 stats app is updated every 90 seconds and allows fans access to previously unheard levels of in game detail. A really smart example of a brand using technology to improve fan experience.

IBM Trytracker

As official data partner to the English RFU, IBM have been using their unique position to create value for fans throughout the 2014 6 Nations tournament. Through a ‘try tracker’ tool available on the RFU website, the brand used data in a graphic manner to illustrate key players in the game, momentum within a certain period (a notoriously difficult thing to measure in rugby) and detailed key targets that the English team was looking to hit within the game.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 11.44.11

Accenture Rugby

Official Technology Partner to the RBS 6 Nations Rugby Championship, Accenture have been using a specific rugby Twitter account to give fans further insight into all 6N games.


Main sponsor of the All Blacks, AIG have collaborated with Opta, New Zealand Rugby and USA Rugby for the ‘AIG Rugby Innovation Challenge’. One of the first ‘crowdsourced’ rugby data competitions, fans were offered open data feeds, including stadium location feeds, team and player performance statistics, match statistics, and numerous other rich data feeds free of charge.

The brand then asked these developers to take the data, and attempt to use it in a novel way, by creating an innovative app to promote rugby around the world. A very smart campaign which is still running.

While the above examples don’t apply to many sponsorship categories, there’s certainly some food for thought around how your brand can facilitate and improve fan experience to create more relevance.