Six Nations 2016: Why it's never been easier to target rugby fans

The success of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations coming to terrestrial commercial TV means it has never been a better time to target rugby fans, argues RadiumOne's Rupert Staines.

Six Nations: annual rugby tournament features England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales
Six Nations: annual rugby tournament features England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales

Last year’s Rugby World Cup was the biggest ever in terms of attendances and increased UK interest in rugby by 39 per cent. About 24 million people (over two-fifths of the population) watched the BBC’s 2015 coverage of the annual Six Nations championship and commercial broadcaster ITV is now in on the action for the next six tournaments.

Consequently, brands have never had a better opportunity to target such a premium demographic: the income of a passionate Six Nations fan is 20 per cent higher than the UK average, making them the most affluent fan group of any popular sport. So, on top of the obvious brand-building ability of traditional media, what are the best ways to connect with them effectively digitally?

These tips are based on work with rugby sponsors including MasterCard, O2, DHL, ITV, Diageo as well as the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations.

1. Harnessing second-screening during matches

A study we did with Rugby World revealed how engaged rugby fans are with technology, particularly around game time. Over eight in 10 (83 per cent) use their smartphone prior to kick off and over half (55 per cent) ‘actively’ second screen whilst watching a game.

Allied to this, ITVs entrance offers a fabulous brand opportunity to reach Six Nations fans on commercial TV for the first time and harness second-screening. ITV’s programmatic offering, AdSync+, means when a TV ad airs, a similar digital ad can be served to multiple connected devices with a similar profile to the TV audience in terms of socio-demographics and geography.

Crucially, an additional layer of audience is included to make the targeting even more precise – fans likely to be interested in the ad based on the content they share or engage with online. For example, brands such as Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker can serve ads to people beyond the 'standard' demographic profile who've shared/received online content relating to spirits or cocktails.

This extends reach to include fans who may be watching the game but start multi-screening during the ad break and even those who fit the TV ad target group but weren't watching TV in the first place and are currently online.

2. Targeting connected devices anytime

This is a logical extension of the previous point but not confined to game time. The Rugby World study also revealed the average UK rugby fan household has 4.6 connected devices and 43 per cent engage in Six Nations content through their mobile. Rugby fans spend an increasing amount of their digital lives on smartphones, and a large majority of that time is spent in apps.

The England rugby team's sponsor, O2, for example, are leading experts in understanding data around the Six Nations. They’ve millions of people using their apps so tracking downloads, engagement and post-install activity in their apps will be vital. They’ll gather all this in-app engagement data in one place so it can be applied programmatically in real-time to campaigns.

From an app-tracking point of view, tying everything up under one platform gives a deeper understanding of how rugby fans, or consumers in general, engage with their marketing activity and what leads them to start downloading their apps.

Like O2, other brands should be capturing app interactions to use as a foundation for audience intelligence across other marketing activities, including user acquisition and re-engagement. In other words, capturing in-app user engagement data means you can identify and target high-value consumers both within apps and beyond. It’s particularly powerful when combined with cross-device ad platforms so campaigns can work as hard as possible across many screens.

3. Exploiting 'dark social'

A technique that remains scandalously under-used. Nearly half (48 per cent) of fans share rugby-related content online, however, 77 per cent of this content is shared outside of social media platforms in 'dark social' – channels that can’t be measured by web analytics, such as links sent via email, instant messenger platforms and online forums.

Brands’ obsession with the likes of Facebook and Twitter means they completely miss out on the much wider potential customer base available by harnessing content shared "in the dark." The best way to unlock this is via sharing tools such as URL link shorteners and sharing widgets that appear around online articles.

Team Sky, for example, discovered their target community of cycling fans share a whopping 94 per cent of content in dark social. The Jockey Club identified and targeted 3.5 million people who regularly interacted with their content, primarily in dark social, for a 12 to 1 return on investment on ticket sales during the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

So, don’t remain in the dark. The Six Nations is the premium opportunity to connect with rugby fans and having these three leaders in your line-up means you could kick your brand competitors into touch.

Rupert Staines is European managing director of RadiumOne.

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