As the #RWC15 kicks off, we take a look at the off-field battle of player brand endorsement on social media. We will be highlighting some of rugby’s top social media performers from home and abroad - how they approach their endorsement responsibilities, What works, and what doesn’t.
At this point most people are well aware that Twitter is the go-to platform for brands and athletes to reach their main audience online.
Companies are quickly starting to understand the importance of using a public figure or athlete to gain access to a large new audience which they may not have been able to engage with otherwise. But with that comes the responsibility of the brand to choose the correct athlete and the athlete choosing the appropriate brand to promote.
Relevance is of major importance for any social sponsorship activation. If an athlete is going to promote a product that product must be something that their fans will be able to connect with and have a possible interest in. Most people who are following an athlete on twitter do so to have more of a connection to their favourite player and to be able to voice their opinions both positive and negative about that athlete.
The rising popularity of rugby across the world has led to its athletes becoming hugely popular through all of the major social media platforms, in particular Twitter. This gives the athlete an opportunity to capitalise on their following and a business to gain access to a specific target market of rugby fans through that athlete.
For example, Dan Carter (All Blacks, Fly Half) has a tremendous following on twitter (438K). That vast audience are interested in Dan Carter the rugby player but also the person off the field. This means that they will follow what he wears, what he watches on tv, his exercise routine, what his favourite foods are and any other behind the scenes insight they can gain. This gives him a captive audience which sponsors can benefit from. He has done this quite effectively through his endorsement deal with Adidas, his bio on twitter even states that he is specifically an Adidas international athlete. Although only 37% of his posts from the last month have been sponsored, some these posts involving Adidas products can receive well over 800 favourites and 300 retweets.
As can be seen below, the official Adidas rugby page only gets a fraction of the engagement that Dan Carter does from the exact same post.
Irish Rugby players haven’t been as quick to cash in on their social media popularity but Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe have both been successful in promoting their sponsors and their own brands. As can be seen from the below stats, they both tweet about their sponsors and partners quite regularly.
Bowe gets a reasonably high response from his followers in regards to his posts promoting his own XV Kings brand.
Kearney’s partnership with Audi Ireland has produced some memorabe online content which has been received very positively from his fanbase.
It takes some research to find out whether or not an athlete's audience will be interested in a brand. This is an integral step when a business and an athlete are proposing a partnership because it must be a mutually beneficial relationship and the audience's opinions should be a significant part of the decision to endorse or not.
For example, Cian Healy has a 218K strong following on Twitter who are consistently entertained by his regularly funny and charming posts. Although, the lower response to the tweet below may show that the fans don't see the fit between Ireland's ferocious front-row forward and a coffee brand? This can be a positive thing for both athletes and businesses to gauge how appropriate their partnerships are by getting instant feedback from fans.
Overall rugby players are becoming quite adept at picking and promoting brands across their social channels and there are still many more opportunities for players and businesses to capitalise on their social following. The most important thing to be taken from this is that there are many tempting possibilities for promotion over social media but all parties must ensure that they make the right choice in terms of player, brand and content.
Breandán Ó Riain
Sports Account Executive