England World Cup winning manager Sir Clive Woodward has a favourite story on using technology to tackle player fitness – how Will Greenwood used to run up and down during game breaks to improve his GPS stats.

Data has been in rugby a long time but it’s become a lot more sophisticated now, incorporating drones, wearable tech, eye-vision tech, smartphone apps, in-ground high-speed Wi-Fi, Dark Social, data science and artificial intelligence.

Consequently, rugby is on a very big roll – from the pitch to the fans to the boardroom. This is being underpinned by the intelligent use of data and technology. So, what can brands learn?

Players & pitches

England hold the joint world-record of 18 consecutive wins and have won the last two Six Nations tournaments. Technology and data have played a major part in how they train, play and performance analysis.

Drones monitor patterns in how players move, eye tracking tech improves visual awareness, wearable tech and GPS data monitor performance. Health trackers are used for food intake. This has resulted in a big improvement in the players’ ability to perform from fitness, skills and decision-making aspect.

Obviously, it’s not feasible for marketers to monitor their employees in this way but it’s about using available technology and data from a very specific point of view – to improve performance. Not simply using it for its own sake. With the explosion in workplace-related technology, the skill is in picking out the ones to really benefit your team.

Stands & fans

TV viewing figures for rugby’s Aviva Premiership are up 13%, crowds up 10%. The Six Nations has the highest average attendance per game of any sporting event in the world.

Rugby has used a wide range of technologies to engage more effectively with consumers and enhance the fan experience. Eighty-three percent of fans in the stadium use their smartphone prior to kick-off, while nearly half of 18-34s do so during the actual game. Consequently, Twickenham stadium invested £78m in installing high-speed Wi-Fi to improve the fan experience.

Contactless payment facilities and ticketless smartphone entry have also been employed to make the match-day experience as convenient as possible. Audio headsets of referees chatter and a ref-cam beamed to the giant TV screens all bring fans closer to the pitch action.

The most recent deal within O2’s long-term, successful association with England Rugby had a heavy focus on digital technology to improve the fan experience, as O2 wants to become more integrated in the rugby world. This involves pushing more content and personalised experiences to handsets.

Many players are fronting up too. England’s James Haskell has a huge social media following, allowing fans and sponsors to engage with him at various levels.

Rugby is very practical at employing technologies that will benefit and be used by the vast majority of fans on a regular basis – a lesson in focus for marketers rushing in to adopt all manner of new technologies from VR to Facebook Live.

Boardrooms & brands

All this has had a positive impact in boardrooms. The Rugby Football Union’s latest annual accounts showed annual revenues doubled and record profits (up 37%).

Employing technology has the knock-on effect of generating more data for better decision-making from an organisational and marketing perspective – across rights holders and sponsors. This has enabled new ways for sponsors to reach and build rapport with match-day fans in a much more engaging, flexible and relevant way.

IBM, Accenture and O2 have tapped into data showing rugby fan’s extremely high smartphone use, particularly at grounds. Accenture went all guns blazing on the official Six Nations tournament app – a “control tower” for the event with its 400,000 lines of data each game. EY plans the same with its British & Irish Lions official app this summer. O2 have made a huge focus on gathering all their own rugby in-app engagement data in one place so it can be applied programmatically in real-time to campaigns and give a deeper understanding of how rugby fans engage with their marketing activity.

Extra time

Rugby is one of the most traditional of sports yet has dived headlong into the world of data and tech to transform the sport at every level for the better. Importantly, it hasn’t lost its soul in the process, having cleverly achieved the balance between old and new – a real lesson for brands.

Data is bringing alive the rugby experience to new heights which is translating into higher commercial returns for brands, sponsors, clubs and rights holders. The absolute ideal for a team is that data and technology can join the dots between these entities, the players and fans to create a fuller immersive system to the mutual benefit of all parties.

These ideas were discussed by TV presenter Gabby Logan, England rugby star James Haskell MediaCom and Ernst & Young at Advertising Week Europe’s session “Moneyball Rugby".


By Craig Tuck, managing director at RadiumOne UK

GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at http://www.gdprsummit.london/

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