The trying game

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rugby world cup New zealand England national rugby union team Rugby union Rugby

Kick off: The Rugby World Cup starts next week
Kick off: The Rugby World Cup starts next week
Noli Dinkovski looks at the opportunities presented by the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in Auckland, New Zealand on 9 September.

If you were asked to come up with the four largest international sporting events in the world, what would you say? Well, if you’re a sporty type, you probably wouldn’t hesitate in naming the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics. And, of course, you’d be right.

The other two, however, are not so easy. Did you know that the Tour de France comes in at number three? Pat yourself on the back if you did. And that just leaves the fourth, which is, you’ve guessed it now, the Rugby World Cup (RWC).

The last RWC, held in South Africa in 2007, attracted a cumulative worldwide TV audience of 4.2 billion. Total attendance across the 48 matches, meanwhile, surpassed 2.25 million. Given such large viewing numbers, it’s little surprise that drinks brands are investing heavily in the tournament and supporting pubs with new beer launches and PoS materials.

Ale opportunities

As the big kick off approaches, the major thrust of activity for Greene King IPA, the official beer of England rugby, is to encourage people to enjoy the unique live atmosphere of a pub. Given the early kick-off times — most games start between 6am and 9.30am — this presents quite a challenge.

“We will be running promotions in pubs across the country to increase awareness of the tournament and our association to drinkers,” explains Dom South, marketing director at Greene King Brewing & Brands. “We’ll also be running a national advertising print campaign to highlight that IPA is 100% English and is England’s official rugby beer.”

Far from a hindrance, South believes the early kick-off times provide pubs with a great opportunity to extend trading hours and drive morning sales. The competition, he says, also provides an opportunity for outlets to offer breakfast and early lunches.

“Pubs could also show highlight sessions during the afternoon or evening, providing another chance to get drinkers down to the pub to watch the matches with a real pint of beer in their hand,” explains South.

Greene King IPA will be providing pubs with “visibility kits” that include branded bar runners and empty-belly posters. “Watching rugby in a pub gives people an experience they just wouldn’t get at home,” says South. “They can enjoy a real pint in an atmosphere with all the buzz and excitement of the game. Pubs need to capitalise on this with our Greene King IPA promotional kits.”

If Greene King is synonymous with English rugby, then the same can be said of SA Brain and Wales. To complement its recent shirt sponsorship, Brains has now become the official ale of the Welsh team.

And like the Suffolk brewer, Brains has produced “atmosphere kits” for its tenanted estate, which include posters, exterior banners, bunting, flags, T-shirts and fixture cards.

“It’s important to pre-publicise events outside and in-outlet,” suggests Brains sales and marketing director Richard Davies. “Exterior banners are effective, and if you produce a generic ‘watch live sport here’ banner, you can use it over a range of sporting activities.”

With long-established links to rugby, Carlsberg-owned Tetley’s is another ale brand embracing the RWC. To help customers know when matches are to be shown, publicans can order personalised ‘Match a Minute’ posters via the Carlsberg We Deliver More website. Guinness, meanwhile, also has partnership deals with the English, Scottish and Welsh rugby union sides, so expect an announcement on activity soon.

The other key players

Ale brands dominate rugby sponsorship, but it’s by no means an exclusive club. As an official sponsor of the RWC, New Zealand wine Brancott Estate is running an on-pack competition offering five pairs of tickets to the final.

Heineken is a ‘worldwide partner’ of the competition, and has six high-profile former international rugby stars as brand ambassadors. The stars — which include ex-England captain Will Carling, New Zealand legend Zinzan Brooke and former Welsh number eight Scott Quinnell — front Heineken’s RWC campaign, This is the Game. The legends will come together to record a series of “light-hearted and off-the-cuff” videocasts where they will make predictions, comment on performances and tell stories from their own playing days. Hosted by Will Carling, they will be available to view on Heineken’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

When it comes to pubs, UK head of on-trade customer marketing Darryl Hinksman says Heineken has talked to licensees, encouraging them to record the games and replay them in the afternoons. “If England, Wales or Scotland start to do well in it, then I suspect interest might accelerate and gain real momentum,” Hinksman adds.

Interest in the RWC is not solely the domain of drinks brands either. McCoys has introduced two limited edition flavours for the tournament — Pickled Scrumion and Ruck of Ribs. It’s also running a promotion on its handy packs, offering rugby fans the chance to win “the ultimate rugby road trip” to New Zealand with mates. Each pack will offer consumers a guaranteed 10% off their next purchase at Sports Direct.

So, while the RWC may have slipped under the radar of some pubs, it’s clear that brand support to the on-trade isn’t lacking. And much like a rugby player with an oval-shaped ball, it’s now up to publicans to pick it up and run with it.

World Cup brews

Rugby and ale have traditionally gone hand in hand, and brewers are lining up seasonal ales in time for the Rugby World Cup (RWC).

Welsh rugby team sponsor SA Brain is introducing a 4% ABV golden ale, created in partnership with some of rugby’s top legends. Available to all Brains licensees, Legends Ale will be distributed by Heineken and WaverleyTBS. For each pint drunk, 5p will go to rugby charity Wooden Spoon, which supports disadvantaged children.

Daniel Thwaites has also produced a limited edition beer in time for the RWC. Nutty All Black is a 3.3% ABV beer created using New Zealand hops.

York Brewery’s World Cup contender is Scrum Down, said to be a 4.3% ABV dark, rich ale with a roasted malt and chocolate finish. General manager Andrew Whalley says he hopes it will prove “extremely popular” with the brewer’s customers.

Fuller’s is bringing back its seasonal beer from earlier in the year. Front Row is a 3.7% ABV light ruby-coloured ale, first launched by former England rugby captain Phil Vickery in February. With refreshed branding it will be available in selected Fuller’s pubs during September and October.

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