Rugby World Cup Shows Gulf Between Sponsors And Awareness

It's that time of year again. A World Cup opens, and this time it's rugby rather than football (soccer if you prefer), but the outcome is the same.

Some brand managers out there must be wondering why they bother spending the big bucks to be associated with a tournament only for a rival to be more closely associated with the sport in the public mind.

In football, it's usually Nike that does this to FIFA World Cup sponsor, Adidas. However, both brands appear to be pulling off a surprise close association with rugby, although Canterbury is the official kit supplier sponsor of the tournament. According to figures from marketing research agency Toluna and Harris Interactive, Adidas and Nike are the top two kit brands associated with the tournament. One can assume that this is the result of supplying kits to participating teams, but it must make Canterbury ask itself a few questions.

The agency's research looked at which brands are most closely associated with the sport of rugby union, and there were quite a few surprises. 

With financial services, we have Visa coming out on top, just ahead of the actual top-level worldwide sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, MasterCard (or should that be just a symbol now?).

Guess what happens with airlines? Yes, that's right -- the official partner, Emirates, is not identified as the carrier most linked with the sport -- that accolade goes to Air New Zealand.

The same goes for consumer electronics, with Toshiba being the most associated brand with the sport, when it is actually Canon that is an official sponsor.

Coca-Cola also seems to have pulled off a miraculous trick of being associated with the sport, despite not being an official top-level, tournament sponsor.

In fact, when one looks down the list of brands that the public most readily associates with the sport, there is only one occasion when they pick out a lead sponsor at the Rugby World Cup by suggesting Heineken is the beer that springs to mind when rugby is mentioned 

Now, it has to be said that this research is examining which brands are most readily associated with rugby, and not necessarily the World Cup. It is entirely possible, then, that a brand like Emirates could be using its official sponsorship to more closely associate itself with rugby -- and that, of course, would not be measurable until after the tournament is finished.

However, I would point out that to get to the top level of any major sporting occasion, a sponsor usually needs to be involved with the organising body for some time. You don't go from a standing start to suddenly being a main sponsor.

Indeed, MasterCard was picked out as having 'won' the 2015 Rugby World Cup and yet here we are four years later with more people associating Visa with the sport. 

It will be interesting, then, to see how these figures are altered by the tournament. Will MasterCard make up ground on Visa and overtake it, will Canterbury climb up to rub shoulders with non-sponsor Nike and Adidas and will people remember Emirates was the big sponsor last time and this time, and not Air New Zealand?

Whatever happens, there are some huge brands here that are committed to the Rugby World Cup who are going to be asking themselves why rivals are more closely associated with the sport without the need to sign such as huge cheque every four years. 

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