Rugby vs. football: How the sponsors reflect the sport

The language of this year's Rugby World Cup couldn't be more different from last year's FIFA World Cup, says Fitch's EMEA executive creative director.

Emirates "bringing rugby home"
Emirates "bringing rugby home"

Risk everything, all in or nothing, the game before the game. Sound familiar? This was just some of the powerful, high-energy language used by sponsors of the FIFA World Cup 2014.

Leave your families, sell your soul, risk your lives. This language was aggressive, fearless and came from the biggest and most recognized names in sports.

The Adidas vs. Nike battle in last year’s FIFA World Cup demanded the attention of fans as much as the football itself. Questions were raised like: who had the most YouTube views? Who got the most re-tweets? Who’s risking their lives?

The language of this year’s Rugby World Cup couldn’t be more different. It’s not the language of risk, fear and force – it’s the language of commitment, loyalty and patriotism… And the major sports manufacturing brands aren’t investing in such a major way.

Here’s why:

Creating a meaningful campaign
To succeed in a hugely crowded market of sponsors, brands must become more meaningful than ever. They need to shape this meaning through the sharing of stories, and spread the message with individuals. Conversation must be evocative and created with social groups.

The sponsors of FIFA World Cup and RWC have built exactly that around their campaigns – the difference is that the football campaigns focus on individual values, while the rugby campaigns focus more on social values. A model example of one brand’s differing approach to sponsorship depending on the sporting event is Emirates, official sponsor of both FIFA 2014 and RWC 2015.

Emirates’ FIFA World Cup campaign focused on the individual – the hero. Its "all time greats" ad depicted Ronaldo and Pelé being celebrated on a flight to the game. The focus was on the player’s stories, their success and their fans, rather than the tournament itself.

Meanwhile the airline’s current campaign demonstrates a different approach. It doesn’t focus on the individual, it concentrates on the game, the tournament. Emirates’ "bringing rugby home" campaign tells the story of the rugby ball travelling across the world to the pitch at Twickenham. This tournament is for everybody, wherever and whoever you are.

Why are the major sports manufacturing brands less involved in the Rugby World Cup?
The language of RWC is inclusive. It’s about the team and being part of a family. We see that campaigns from brands such as Nike and Adidas are often focused on competition, on being the best, or the journey to becoming the best.

Yet this tactic isn’t as relevant for rugby – the very nature of the game is about working together, being better together, standing committed together. As a result the brands that sponsor RWC are more family-oriented (Land Rover) than competitive (Adidas).

Why do football and rugby attract such differing brands?
Football players are world-renowned superstars and pin-ups for the sports brands. Everyone knows who Rooney, Suarez and Messi are – but people aren’t so familiar with the world’s leading rugby players, meaning their personal brands don’t carry as much weight. As a result the focus of sponsors of RWC is on the game itself, and less on the individual.

So, if branding around football features the individual, branding around rugby heroes the social value of the sport. Land Rover’s RWC "we deal in real" campaign highlights the importance of the audience and their inclusion in the tournament. Land Rover announced the "20 global mascots" delivering to the everyday rugby fan an experience of a lifetime.

To quote Bernard Lapasse, the chairman of the World Rugby and Rugby World Cup: "The Rugby World Cup is about getting involved.

"World Rugby wants as many people to give rugby a try during and after the six-week festival. An unprecedented legacy programme is already paving the way for sustainable growth in the host nation and across Europe as the world’s top players inspire the next generation of players."

Lapasse sums up the essence of this tournament perfectly when he says RWC is about accessibility, not aspiration. Accessibility is reflected by brands like Heineken and Land Rover – anyone can drink it, anyone can drive it (not simultaneously however).

Global brands such as Adidas, Land Rover and Emirates are experts in creating the right campaign for the right sport with the right message. They understand the cultural relevance of the sport and as a result deliver meaningful experiences.

Alasdair Lennox is the executive creative director for EMEA at Fitch

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