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Opinion: Rugby Union World Cup was Tokyo Magic

by Jason Madeley Jason Madeley

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  • Posted on Tuesday 5th November, 2019

It’s not often I write a blog from holiday, but I think that my recent trip to Japan deserves a couple of musings given my visit to the Rugby Union World Cup semi-finals and one of world’s biggest sporting occasions.

Having never been to Japan before I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was nation who live differently to the west; whatever you think is the norm back at home, it has a unique twist in Japan, from the space age toilets with heated seats (!) to their love of weird-yet-wonderful vegetables and of course, lots of raw fish.

Yet the thing that struck me most was the people and how wonderful they are. They’re always on time, polite, welcoming with every word, and perhaps most comforting was that they even queue like the British. It was fitting that the Japanese team’s performances on the pitch was the icing on the cake as they quite rightly won the hearts of all rugby union fans.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but look at the event from a business point view. Hatch has worked in sports since it’s inception, and even before that in my case. So I wanted to see what the fan experience was like at the tournament – how did it and its sponsors engage with me?

The first thing to notes was that Tokyo and Yokohama didn’t feel dominated by the tournament. Maybe that’s down to their sheer size with populations pushing ten and four million respectively.

Yes, there were lamp post signs and ads in taxis – a minimum expectation – but it was very subtle… unless of course it was all in Japanese!

Both semi-finals I attended were superb. The England performance was incredible and to be in the stadiums was a real privilege, certainly an ‘I was there’ special moment I’ll never forget. As Mastercard reminded me when I paid for my Heineken beers, it was priceless. Yet both these sponsors did nothing to enhance my experience as a fan on a brand level – apart from drinking the beer!

I often think sponsors overlook the role they can play in engaging with fans at a sporting event; in the build-up, in the locality and online to make the experience a better one and therefore cut through.

In a country famed for its technology, it was DHL’s tried and trusted ‘Epic Moment‘ try cards that seemed to create and impact and engage fans as they drove on the roar for the supporters in the stadium.

The brands and moments that I feel captured the mood on social were the ones that focussed on simplicity. A red St. George’s Cross on Mount Fuji as a good luck countdown, or Guinness’ fun acknowledgement of England’s performance with one-off, witty creative.

Not all elements of activations must be elaborate to be effective.

Another example: my group of friends who dressed up in knights costumes to get fully get into the spirit of the occasion ended up on the Daily Mail website!

In my opinion, sponsors could have supported the fans from all countries with more information, countdown events and fun content to enhance the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible event overall – whereas could there be a halftime stadium Karaoke?

I simply believe tournament sponsors have the opportunity to do more than badge an event.

On the other hand, I feel some of England’s sponsors did a great job of capturing the highs and lows of the team’s journey, with notable comedy genius content from Jack Whitehall for O2’s #weartherose campaign and Guinness’ seemingly endless on point, reactive and clever content creation.

It’s our privilege at Hatch to work with brands in sport and to understand the fan is key. I’ll be excited to bring some of the magic and learnings from Japan to UK with our client, Rugby League World Cup 2021 and others.

So while some brands excelled, and others didn’t, I for one, will never forget the amazing experience of seeing England in Japan 2019.