The Business of Rugby

Worldwide, Rugby is showing spectacular growth, both in the number of players and the number of spectators at matches at all levels. This year the interest in Rugby has taken
07 May 2016 09:02
The Business of Rugby
Vodafone Fijian 7s playmaker Kitione Taliga on his way to score against New Zealand in the final. Fiji won 21-7. Photo: Bruce Southwick/Zoom Fiji

Worldwide, Rugby is showing spectacular growth, both in the number of players and the number of spectators at matches at all levels.

This year the interest in Rugby has taken a huge leap, driven by the inclusion of Sevens Rugby in the Olympic Games in Rio.

Rugby was played at the Games in the first half of the 19th century, but has been absent for many years.

Because of the prestige of competing in the Olympics, a number of countries where Rugby was a minor sport have invested large sums to bring their national teams up to a competitive level.

The USA is attracting stars from the NFL, Russia has certainly lifted its Sevens Team, Canada is now a true contender, Japan is creating surprises and many other nations have been building. And, of course, Rugby is the national sport of Fiji.


Fiji leads the way

The big focus on the Rugby Sevens in the Olympics has rubbed off to the 15- a-side game in many countries, with big numbers of athletes choosing to play the game in the hope of developing into Sevens players.

In this, Fiji has led the way, showing that a small country can have the capacity to dominate.

The other thing that is working for Rugby worldwide is the professionalism that has been nurtured in the sport and the remarkable quality of the management, both at the international level and in many individual countries.


Opportunities for business

Many people believe that it is the management expertise that has been the driver for the growth in the sport.

The amazing growth in the sport has opened up opportunities for business to get on the bandwagon and use the visibility of the game to focus consumer attention on their brands.

In the international arena sponsors have and will continue to promote their brands through the sport and you need to have a great deal of promotion budget dollars to get into the show.

Rugby pretty much has all the international team sponsors they need worldwide. And these businesses keep coming back year after year, with new comers often fighting the incumbent sponsor to take over the rights.

Independent research has shown the value of the alignment in the strengthening of the brands and the creation of very high levels of the brand name awareness.

A critical aspect of gaining sponsors is that the sport needs to be very tightly regulated to ensure that the image is not tarnished by scandals within the game.

This means that not only players but the whole management structure needs to be aware of the overall perception of the Rugby brand and to actively protect that perception.

International Rugby has been very efficient a in achieving this tight control and the general perceptions of the brand have never been greater.


Lack of involvement

But the same enthusiasm for an alignment with the sport of Rugby at a lower level is not as evident.

Given the obvious benefits the big companies are achieving, I find this lack of involvement somewhat strange.

On a local level the same benefits are available and at a somewhat more affordable figure.

Again, research (admittedly carried out some time ago) shows that sponsorship of a local Rugby Club has the added benefit of closely aligning the brand with the local community.

The sponsor is seen as being prepared to support the community to help them to achieve success through their team.

Sponsorship at this level is generally seen as philanthropy but all the benefits enjoyed by the international sponsors are still available at the local level.

However, the management of local clubs generally is not very good at the promotional aspect of their sport, they do not understand marketing and they are not skilled at putting plans together to exploit the team image.

Local sponsorship generally means that the sponsor needs to work harder to get the maximum return on their promotional dollar, but the extra effort will be rewarding.

A local sponsor will need to do extra to make sure that everyone in the community knows they are sponsoring the team. The sponsorship also gives other benefits.

The relationship can be used in promotions, either providing prizes (imagine how the locals would love a prize that allowed them to be with the team for the whole day of the match, travelling with them on the team bus, being on the sideline, being a ball boy, hearing the team talks) or winning game related items such as signed team jerseys.

Consumers can even contribute to the team by having a few cents from their purchase of the brand passed on to the team.

Often sponsorship is not cash, but contributions in kind, such as products or services needed by the team.

In approaching the club it is often wise to involve the parent body so that no conflicts arise between local, national and international sponsorships.


Other opportunities

While Rugby is the most obvious target for sponsorship dollars, there are other sports in Fiji that also provide opportunities.

Potential sponsors should consider their target market and look for sports that best match with that target, their aspirations, their self image and perhaps their location.

Half the population in Fiji is female and they follow female sports. Rugby is building a reputation and an image for the women’s team, but there are other female sports, such as Netball, which also have a strong following.

You can target by age and even by ethnic group, but no matter what you decide, there will be benefits if you work at maximising the promotional impact.

And if you do enter as sponsorship you need to do so with a lot of commitment, you need to take a long-term view.

And you to be faithful when the team’s performance is low, encouraging them to build and try harder.

Your customers will repay your faithfulness.
John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him:

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