I have to confess that I didn't notice much Adidas activity in the Rugby World Cup other than them being on the shirts of the winning New Zealand "All Blacks" team -- which is, of course, pretty much as good as it gets in sports sponsorship. I didn't see any of the #forceofblack videos and didn't notice the winners all had Adidas boots on too. From the perspective of the layman on the sofa I'd probably have said the joint second-place brands in Leo Burnett's table, Heineken and MasterCard were in my joint pole position. In fact, the latter probably just nudged it for a tv viewer for a great "priceless" moment tv spot (in full, here) for reuniting New Zealand star Dan Carter with his first rugby team. Sponsoring man of the match also made the branding come alive beyond the dreaded "logo slap."
As someone who went to a game, however, it was Heineken that stood out -- and sorry, American readers, the game I saw was Japan beating the USA, so we'll quickly move on. From a marketing perspective, Heineken stood out for having "pouring rights'" in and around the stadium with all the accompanying branding, but crucially, they had very cleverly struck a deal to sell fans a plastic pint glass for a pound. As a memento of the competition, nothing will last as long for most rugby fans, long after the programmes have been lost and signs with "try" from DHL have been recycled. I've used the branded glasses several times since and doubtless will continue to do so. Hundreds of thousands of other glasses must be out there being used regularly still -- friends at games reported fans rifling through bins to pick up free souvenirs. Providing the person to do the coin toss at the final was also a pretty massive tick for their campaign too, I'd say.
There's an old joke in sponsorship that the beer brand always wins no matter what, because it has the pouring rights for the tournament and so will sell thousand upon thousand of pints. Which other brands will fans automatically pay to consume at a sporting event? Adidas might have done well, but there's no way a fan of the UK or Ireland teams will buy a New Zealand shirt. I can assure you, however, they will have all drunk an awful lot of Heineken by the time the competition is over -- and, the brand will hope, will be more likely to consider the lager and its stout brand, Murphy's, in the future. In fact, replacing Guinness with Murphy's was probably the main driver for Heineken, above and beyond lager sales. A half of all pints bought at a Twickenham game are typically Guinness so the rival brand knew it would have a huge market of potential conquests.
How sales are affected after the competition will remain to be seen, but it's pretty fortuitous for Heineken that it has raised so much attention just as the festive season descends. For me, then, they'd have to be the longer-term sponsorship winner with MasterCard either in joint first place or perhaps slightly behind them. Its advertising made the biggest impact during the event, but actually at the games and for the months following, I think the simple idea of selling souvenir glasses puts Heineken in top spot.
For me, then, we haven't quite got the position that soccer sponsors find themselves in when rivals can gain association through massive advertising. However, it looks like it may not be far away, particularly with Adidas' success and a moving 'Never Alone' ad from Guinness about Welsh star Gareth Thomas plucking up the courage to tell team mates he is gay. We're on the verge of it, then, but not quite there yet, as I'm reminded when pouring a beer in my souvenir pint glasses.