The Rugby World Cup came to a close when South Africa defeated England in an era-defining final, drawing the curtain on an entertaining tournament that has seen the spotlight fall on the sport for well over a month.
Any World Cup is an opportunity for a sport and its associated brands, but for rugby it’s arguably an even greater opportunity. This is a game with worldwide appeal, yet its biggest beasts don’t always get to battle it out on the biggest of stages: England’s semi-final victory over New Zealand, for example, was only the second meeting between the sides since 2014.
For a brand like Canterbury, then, which provides the kits for seven of the tournament’s nations, the event presents a huge opportunity to thrust itself into the limelight. For six weeks every four years, the brand goes from being a relatively small sportswear supplier to getting the sort of exposure usually reserved for the likes of Nike and Adidas.
“As a rugby-focused brand, the Rugby World Cup is the most important tournament in our calendar,” Simon Rowe, Head of Sports Marketing at Canterbury’s parent company Pentland Brands told Sport Industry Group. “The growth of new consumers means that the tournament has a predicted reach of 1.7 billion on digital channels, reaching 800 million households.
“With figures like that, it’s obviously a huge opportunity for us and an unmissable chance to connect with the global rugby audience, access new consumers and markets and tell our brand story through our licensed teams and ambassadors.”
In an era when the biggest sportswear brands have a near-ubiquitous hold on the screens of sport fans, Canterbury’s heritage in a game like rugby means it takes centre stage during the tournament. Finalists England and host nation Japan - one of the most entertaining and surprising sides - are counted among the Canterbury teams at this World Cup, while the brand's logo has also been worn by match officials, extending the exposure. With its Be Part Of It campaign, rolled out throughout the tournament, Rowe says Canterbury wants to use that platform to do more than just promote its contracts with some of rugby’s most successful unions.
“Canterbury is embracing this year’s Rugby World Cup as a platform to promote inclusivity and togetherness in the sport. We believe rugby is for everyone - players, fans, men, women, kids... – no other sport is as inclusive as rugby and our goal as the number one rugby brand is to ensure that everyone feels like they have a role to play and that they are part of it.”
Created in-house by Pentland’s own creative agency, the campaign pictures fans standing shoulder to shoulder with some of their nation’s best players, with the Be Part Of It messaging celebrating the power of fan support.
“As a brand we’re driven to promote togetherness in sport and the new campaign and Rugby World Cup tournament is a perfect platform to do that,” says Rowe. “Be Part Of It celebrates everything that’s great about the game and has hopefully inspired fans from across the world to get involved, support their team and celebrate the sport.”
The wider sport of rugby is beginning to adopt similar messaging as it looks to broaden participation and adopt a more inclusive approach. Despite some of the physical barriers to entry, participation - particularly in the women’s game - is increasing.
“We are proud that, as a brand, our main focus is on the game of rugby, so we have very little to distract us from the brand’s objectives,” says Rowe. “Once every four years, the best men’s players showcase their skills on the global stage, but as a brand committed to all forms of the game, that doesn’t mean we only focus on rugby during the World Cup – we’re committed to rugby 365 days a year. We’re passionate about inclusivity - rugby is not just a game for men and not just a 15-a-side game either. Whether it’s the women’s tournament, sevens or RugbyX, our focus is to make sure we’re on the field helping the athletes to perform at, and look, their best.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time for rugby - the growth of the women’s game is especially exciting with nearly a quarter of all registered players now women. Equally, the 2018 Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco was a great example of how a tournament has reached new audiences in new markets.
“Canterbury’s role is to be present at these events and help players perform at their best, whatever the format.
As the tournament draws to a close, Canterbury - just like World Rugby and its unions - will look to future tournaments to capitalise on the interest once again. But with new forms of rugby growing, additional opportunities for exposure are appearing with them neither the sport nor its brand partners may have to wait four years for another chance to bask in the spotlight.