Social Is Where Ambush Marketers Lurk Today, Not Outdoor, Rugby World Cup Organisers Will Discover

The Rugby World Cup organisers have taken a very sensible step in protecting sponsors from ambush marketing around the World Cup grounds ahead of next year's competition -- after all, sponsorship money is believed to have doubled since the last World Cup, held in New Zealand.

If the recent Fifa football World Cup is anything to go by, they may well have closed one door on brands piggybacking the event only to find tht the biggest one will remain open. The elephant in the room here is social media. 

When fans converge on the stadiums next September and October (I'll be off to see the U.S. vs Japan in Gloucester), they will not be able to see any outdoor activity from non-sponsoring brands, or at least any brand that is deemed a threat to a sponsor. However, the mobile phones that everyone will be consulting on the train journey to the stadia and back -- and doubtless at half-time -- will be the target of many a brand hoping to join in the conversation around games.

Of course, the general buzz will be pretty low in comparison to the football World Cup because rugby does not have quite the same fanatical following as the game with the round ball, and while its growth is very exciting, it can't compete on a global basis. Soccer also has the benefit of being massive in Asia and is either already huge or growing in the BRIC countries, and so is a massive opportunity for brands to align themselves with. Rugby's popularity tends to be limited to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, France, Italy and Ireland with a certain level of following in the Americas and the odd Pacific island. 

So, globally speaking, the threat from ambush marketing through social media will be greatly reduced. We probably won't notice in the UK, however, because being the home of the sport and the 2015 hosts, there will be major efforts to join in the conversation. Not just to tap in to people watching the games together but because the sport, as we all know, is generally deemed to be supported by a more affluent audience than the average football fan. So you can expect the usual run of bookies trying to get in on the act with any high end spirit, beer, clothes maker and car manufacturer making a concerted push. They won't be able to refer to the RWC, but rugby and the names of the countries they might be calling out for people to support are all fair game. 

On the physical ambush marketing side, it was slightly surprising to see the government did not afford the same protection to the Rugby World Cup as it did the Olympics. With the latter ambush marketing was completely barred around events, so brands could not set up stalls, put up banners or approach fans in any way. With that protection missing, one can only assume the corporate bandwagon around rugby will roll on with car parks in fields featuring showrooms of products and stalls in every available nook and cranny selling rival beer, food, scarves and so on.

So the organisers have done the right thing in blocking out ambush outdoor advertising around the stadia, but there is precious little they can do about social media. That will be down to the officially involved brands to be so engaging and feature so much content from the the event and the players involved that they are hard to compete with next September and October.

The event organisers have done all they feasibly can to protect sponsors. The ball is now in the court of those brands to dazzle within social media and keep the attention on the official partners.

One thing's for sure. With all the players wearing gum shields it's hard to imagine the big "like" and "share" bonanza of a player biting another one in front of the cameras to be played out again. 

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