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3 helpful marketing lessons from the Rugby World Cup

I’m writing this in a bar with a glass of vin rouge in front of me. A half-read copy of L’Equipe lies next to my laptop on the table, and le patron is busy preparing me a croque monsieur avec moutarde de Dijon.

As I look out into the street, I notice a man cycle past in a blue and white striped jumper, wearing a beret, smoking a foul-smelling Gitanes cigarette, with a string of onions over his shoulder.

OK, I made that paragraph up for effect, and I apologise for the national stereotyping, but hopefully you’ll have worked out that I’m currently in France, in my self-appointed role as the Yardstick Rugby World Cup (RWC) correspondent.

Life in the heart of “Coup de Monde” mania

After several months during which much of the rugby conversation has centred around the financial plight of top clubs, high-tackle laws, and VAR, it’s nice to rekindle your love of the game with some World Cup immersion.

I’ve long argued that France is the ideal venue for a Rugby World Cup. In fact, some of you who are Yardstick clients may have recently had that pitched to you as a blog article suggestion!

Nearly all the shop windows in the village where we are staying have some kind of rugby-related display, and the talk in those shops and the bars is of recent matches and the strengths and weaknesses of the various nations competing.

The women in the épicerie where I get my bread and croissants each morning doesn’t speak English and my French has only received an “enough to get by” rating. But even within those linguistic parameters she was able to make her distress at the injury to the French scrum-half, Antoine Dupont, perfectly clear.

Before both of the matches I’ve attended in Saint-Etienne, the main square in the town was packed before the game with not only fans of the two teams involved but also supporters from other nations as well as the French themselves. All coming together in the name of the great game.

Because we marketeers never switch off, I’ve kept a keen eye on how the French authorities and wider rugby community are promoting this the 10th RWC, to see if there are any lessons you can draw when it comes to marketing your own business.

1. Understand your target audience

World Rugby came in for some criticism when tickets for this RWC went on sales less than two years after South Africa had vanquished England in the previous final in Tokyo in 2019.

There was some logic in this decision, however. It’s well known that rugby fans will travel in large numbers from across the globe to each World Cup. So, by announcing the fixtures and selling tickets so early in the cycle, they gave attendees plenty of time to plan ahead and sort travel and accommodation well in advance.

World Rugby, and their media advisers, have also demonstrated a clear understanding of their intended audience in the way the game has been televised. They have made a conscious effort to enable the right mix of coverage and analysis, appealing to new and occasional fans as well as rugby veterans.

A key part of this was ensuring free-to-air TV access in the UK and recognising this as an important factor in helping to grow the game.

In the same way, when you’re marketing your business and services, understanding your target audience is crucial.

Identifying their preferences and financial needs will help you tailor your marketing output to identify with them better.

2. Learn from your mistakes

During the early round of matches, organisers had the idea of getting young children to sing the national anthems before each match.

There was nothing wrong with this as such, but it raised the ire of many traditionalists who pointed out the failure to create the sense of national passion that anthems can provide at the start of each match.

So, the organisers backed down and switched to more traditional approach, which has led to great improvement in the pre-match atmosphere.

Likewise, entry to grounds in early games was problematic. For example, many England fans missed first part of Argentina game because of delays in checking tickets and bag searches.

Again, organisers took look lessons on board so there has been no reoccurrence. At all the matches I’ve attended entry has been quick and efficient in the extreme.

Similarly, when you’re marketing your business, not everything you do will automatically be a success. Sometimes a certain idea just won’t work, even if your research data and analysis is telling you that it should.

Rather than dwell on it, it’s better to accept it as a learning opportunity and embrace failure as a stepping stone to future success as you refine your marketing approach.

3. Don’t be afraid to mimic success

Anyone who attended the London 2012 Olympics will have noted the “games makers” – volunteers who were at each event, and on the route to the different venues, helping with ticket queries, directions, and other general questions.

The French RWC organisers have clearly recognised how successful they were in enhancing the spectating experience and have recruited a similar team of helpful volunteers for each match.

Likewise, when it comes to marketing yourself and your business, don’t be afraid to copy ideas you like – even non-financial services ones.

Clearly you need to avoid outright plagiarism, but it’s important not to be too proud to mimic a successful strategy you see elsewhere.

Get in touch

Even if you aren’t a rugby fan, there are some useful lessons you can learn from how big sporting events are marketed.

If you’d like to talk about how you can apply them to your own business, or just need some help and advice with your own marketing strategy, please get in touch.

You can email or call us on 0115 8965 300.

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