Fan engagement & innovations at the Rugby World Cup

Cutting Edge Sport Curators LiveWire Sport look into the innovations we can expect around fan engagement at the Rugby World Cup…

The inaugural Rugby World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1987 was attended by 600,000 fans, with an estimated television audience of 200 million. In 2015, 2.3 million tickets have been sold to 48 games across 11 host cities in England and Wales, with a potential television reach of 4 billion. It’s set to be the biggest tourism event in the UK since London 2012, and the best ever attended edition of one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

With kick-off at Twickenham on Friday, what will we see from World Rugby to make the 2015 World Cup an engaging experience for the record number of fans tuning in, logging on and visiting the 11 host cities and 15 Fanzones? We checked in with Tom Chick, social and digital media editor at World Rugby.

The primary objective is for fans following the Rugby World Cup to be “given the best possible experience, whether as a ticket holder, watching in a Fanzone, or from home”, says Chick. To do this, official channels are signposted on tickets, spectator guides, team buses and even the official match ball points to #RWC2015, with physical hashtags at every venue. Two new Twitter accounts - @RWC2015Travel and @RWC2015ThePack, run by volunteers - will provide visitor and fan information, while Facebook events are set up for each of the 48 games.

Fanzones in every host city as well as Rugby, birthplace of the sport, will act as hubs of activity, where fans can expect surprise appearances and physical challenges in an atmosphere aiming to replicate the passion seen during London 2012. The Coca-Cola London Eye is set to be a “focal point” of the tournament, according to Chick: with pods decked out in the colours of participating nations, and curated social media content inside.

World Rugby’s aim is to ensure that existing fans are more than engaged than ever, “but also to ensure we are utilising this opportunity to reach the next generation of fans and players.” On Facebook, a Shaun the Sheep sticker deck for Messenger is intended to enable the Rugby World Cup reach a new, younger audience.

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With the Rugby World Cup set for Japan in 2019 - both the first time for the tournament in Asia and the first time for a host outside the top tier of rugby playing nations - there is great scope for global expansion of the game.

The official app, website and social media will all be delivered in four languages, English, Spanish, French and Japanese: extra lengths taken partly “with one eye on 2019”, says Chick, with content launched including manga artwork of Golden Moments.

This international approach extends to a partnership with CalReply, providing the ability to download either the entire schedule of fixtures or that specific to a fan’s team. Reminders, match information and notifications will be delivered to an estimated 200,000 subscribers by the start of the tournament, tailored to the user’s location, language and local broadcaster.

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Technology will be at the heart of the fan experience for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Tickets come with Blippar capability, an augmented reality (AR) app that brings 2D objects to life. Fans who scan their tickets with the app will unlock a regularly updating video gallery of classic World Cup moments and match previews, a journey planner, and a virtual view from their seat inside the stadium. There’s also the opportunity to take a virtual celebration selfie with the official ball of the tournament and share to social media.

Steve Loader, senior brand partner at Blippar, sees the emergence of AR working with sporting organisations as responding to the wider trend of fan behaviour and interactive demands around sporting events. “Whether it be from prompting fans to share selfies from the moment they receive their tickets to creative life size renders of their favourite players, the fan experience is evolving and both brands and sporting organisations must remain ahead of the curve by delivering these new technologies”, he said.

Hawk-Eye technology will also be used for the first time in a major rugby union tournament in collaboration with host broadcaster ITV and Rugby World Cup - both to strengthen the television match official’s decision and improve the viewing experience for fans at home. Fans inside every stadium will be able to purchase an in-ear radio for commentary in different languages, as well as the option of a ‘newbie mode’, and listening live to the referee’s decision-making.

Rugby World Cup celebrated 100 days to go with their first ever Periscope session, covering the start of the Webb Ellis Trophy’s tour of UK and Ireland, and for hundreds of thousands of fans around the globe World Rugby have earmarked key moments throughout the next six weeks to bring those fans an “up close, personal and unique view” of the tournament through the app. @RugbyWorldCup has posted four Periscope streams since their first back in June, from sides receiving their official caps to Chris Robshaw meeting the media.

World Rugby has a range of official partners looking to claim a slice of the interest around 2015’s largest sporting event. How are their digital and social campaigns able to tie in with the objective of providing a fan experience that is more engaged than ever?

“All of our partners see fan engagement as a priority and a lot of their activations reflect that”, says Chick. It is designed that each worldwide partner has a unique activation and ‘owns’ a different part of the tournament: so that Emirates, for example, sponsor the match officials and flagbearers; Heineken launched the #itsyourcall campaign to give fans a unique opportunity to attend the official coin toss; Mastercard will sponsor the Man of the Match award, with exclusive Twitter voting for all 48 matches; and Societe Generale operate the official fantasy game of the tournament.

These activations create quality content for rugby fans alongside the official tournament account, while providing value to the brands through their reach and (potential) customer engagement. World Rugby is then in a position to support these activations in a positive way as they form “part of the overall Rugby World Cup story and provide content we know fans will consume”, says Chick.

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There will be plenty more to come from World Rugby. Once a ball has been kicked in anger, we’ll return and look at how its social channels have been utilised in the attempt to reach and engage more fans than ever.