Is Rugby Union finally catching up with Football in social engagement?

August 21, 2018

Rugby Union. A sport steeped in history and tradition.

However it could be this tradition that has held the game back. In terms of club sizes, pay packages and TV viewing figures, it significantly lags behind other mainstream UK sports such as football, tennis or cricket.

The game only turned professional in 1995 and some people might say it’s been playing catch-up since then.

That‘s certainly been the case for its presence on social media.

Well it was the case.

So what has changed?

In a previous blog, I looked at the evolution of football transfer announcements and how they can positively impact the size of followers, and in turn increase the rate they can charge for sponsorship fees. It seems that Rugby Union has finally cottoned on to this idea.

A few notable recent examples include Glasgow Warriors’ wonderfully peculiar try-scoring GIFs that are shared on Twitter, with my particular favourite being Fijian flyer Niko Matawalu’s exaggerated swagger up to the camera in October 2017.

Premiership new boys Bristol Bears have gone one step further, and have recently actively encouraged mickey-taking out of Second Row Joe Latta with a fun meme.

James Haskell has already been used very effectively by his new club Northampton Saints; the self-proclaimed ‘Archbishop of Banterbury’ has a larger social media following than his new club (by 57,000) and Saints’ video team captured his antics behind-the-scenes at a pre-season photoshoot.

Never to be upstaged, another joker in the pack, Harlequins’ Joe Marler got involved in a peculiar series of clips in a pre-season kit shoot, striking a number of hilarious Jimmy Bullard-esque poses which were circulated across social media to great acclaim.

So what is the point in creating and pushing this sort of content on social media? Does it actually result in tangible business results for the clubs?

It seems to be working

Championship side London Irish took a big risk in making a cringeworthy and slightly odd video announcing why fans should book their 2018/19 season car parking pass. Forcing a player to act in gawky and awkward videos can backfire.

However the club achieved more than 9,100 views of their video (when usually breaking 400 views would be considered a good result) and their full-season parking spaces sold out within a week of launch.

Back to the Bristol Bears, run by the impressive Bristol Sports Group who also owns Bristol City FC, the club famous for their goal celebration tweets.

The rugby club publish humourous meme-heavy content to appeal to a broader and younger fanbase that are hungry for entertainment.

Has it worked for them? You bet. Last week the club announced that due to popular demand for their season opener against Bath, the club have opened a stand previously just used by Bristol City FC, taking their attendance for that game to well over 20,000.

For a recently promoted club this is particularly impressive, especially when the average Aviva Premiership Rugby attendance is 13,833.

As marketeers, how can we take this information and use it to our advantage? Utilising rugby influencers is one method, and something that we’ve done ourselves, by partnering with pundit and broadcasting demon David Flatman as an ambassador for our client Triumph Motorcycles.

On top of this, Maserati GB recently announced their two year deal as Automotive Partner with Harlequins. Most teams would usually announce a new partner with a simple image accompanied by a photoshoot, but we wanted to do something that was a bit different.

Cue a video launch of surprised schoolboy and Harlequins fan Samuel, who was picked up by Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Alofa Alofa in a Maserati Levante in a fun and engaging video that showed off the product and partnership in a manner that wasn’t forced.

To conclude, Rugby Union has a lot of work to do to catch up with the battle for eyeballs with other mainstream sports. However by producing engaging content, sweating players’ social media assets and working closely with sponsors, the clubs and the game will hopefully prosper.

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