DHL: protected from England exit with game-based, rather than team-based properties
DHL: protected from England exit with game-based, rather than team-based properties
A view from Hugh Robertson

An England Rugby World Cup exit would be felt as much off the pitch as on it

If England lose to Australia on Saturday, the world won't end, but the negative implications for sponsors, broadcasters, retailers and future generations will be far-reaching, writes Hugh Robertson, CEO and Founding Partner, RPM

The Tissot clock turned red, the pass was made, the Gilbert ball went out and the final score read Wales 28, England 25. The chariot didn’t show. 

The buoyed and expectant England fans left Twickenham, silenced, contemplating exactly how their team had blown a lead of seven, with 10 minutes to play.

Oh the drama. England’s Rugby World Cup now teeters on a knife-edge, with the team facing the very real prospect of being the first host nation not to make it past the group stage.

In a game essentially deemed to be England’s to lose, following Wales’ injury spree, the team lost its composure. England were repeatedly punished for their indiscipline by a record-breaking, 23-point performance from Biggar and moments of brilliance from Wales, who put everything on the line, including their bodies.

The fact that, up until the final 90 seconds, England could have rescued a draw, but chose not to, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. They eschewed the flawless kicking from Owen Farrell thus far and the opportunity of a late penalty kick for the draw, which would have kept the 'group of death' balanced and open. The World Cup’s viral star, and England captain, Chris Robshaw gambled with the lineout and came up short. 

What we can be sure of is that if England lose to Australia on Saturday and unceremoniously crash out of the tournament, neither of these results will be forgotten for a generation, not least when it comes to the guaranteed sledging and bragging rights that will accompany such a defeat.

Saturday, 8pm is crunch time. 

The world will not actually implode nor will time stop if England don’t make it past the group stages.  Worldwide partners such as Heineken and DHL have safeguarded themselves from early team exits by owning game-based properties, rather than team-based assets. 

In addition, any marketers worth their salt, working for team and unofficial sponsors, should already have their back-up plans, ready to nimbly change tack to hold their audience’s focus and maintain their own right to play regardless of a nation’s performance. Remember, this is still the world’s third-biggest sporting event with a global audience of 4bn over six weeks.   

But asides from the dented national pride, diminished egos and downright disappointment at losing a game invented in this very land, to our staunchest rivals there will be off-pitch implications. 

There are real losers here.

Sport is a tricky beast. While passionate fans will continue to watch, and rugby is less dependent on superstars and national team performance vs the FIFA World Cup, a home-nation exit will reduce interest and commercial opportunity, on our shores at least. 

Tens of millions will be lost by pubs, shops and broadcasters, who were hoping for a sterling England performance to fuel audiences and revenue all the way to the final. To provide some context, according to studies by the UK Centre of RetaiI Research, if England made it out of the group stage at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, this would have been worth £1.1bn to retailers of football shirts, beer and televisions and another £175m would have gone to pubs, restaurants and hotels. 

For a home broadcaster, such as ITV, captive viewing audiences could plummet. Mean fees for ad slots during games could fall by up to 40%, while experts speculate that expected advertising revenues would be up to £1m less per game if England do not progress past the group stage.

Then there are the team sponsors and equipment retailers, who will likely suffer reduced influence, exposure and sales when a major team makes an early exit from the tournament. 

But what’s most saddening, yet impossible to quantify, is the scale of the potential missed legacy opportunity in terms of inspiring future generations of English youngsters, the one that is promised to the nation and the game as part of the bidding process. This will be the real travesty if our team's potential is not fulfilled. 

Yet while our 'group of death' may sadly result in early elimination for the hosts (one of the world’s top rugby nations), high-profile and exciting games in the group stage will provide world rugby and broadcasters with an opportunity to shift the broadcast narrative to a wider, global focus. In doing so, this will spur on the growth of rugby in its developing territories.

Whatever happens, the next stages will be interesting on and off the field. Once the battle to emerge from the group stages has concluded, the off-pitch duelling will step up a notch. 

Without wanting to add pressure to the already burdened shoulders of the England team, the combined weight of the nation’s expectations and the hopes of invested sponsors and retailers makes for a heady mix. This is much more than a game of rugby. 

In the famous words of the legendary, sporting commentators' favourite Yogi Berra, who passed away late last week, "It ain’t over til it’s over" and I for one still very much have faith in the England team.