Keeping up with the play: Heineken and Rugby World Cup 2019 sponsorship

Sean O’Donnell, marketing director at DB

The Rugby World Cup 2019 has begun in Japan and already in the opening weeks there have been surprise upsets, such as the home side over Ireland, and thrilling wins, including the All Blacks over South Africa in their opening match.

It’s one of the world’s biggest sporting tournaments and one that Heineken first started sponsoring in 1995 when the event was held in South Africa.

This year it is again one of the six global sponsors of the Rugby World Cup, says Sean O’Donnell, marketing director at DB.

“On top of that, this year Heineken is also a broadcast sponsor of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand”.

For O’Donnell, the Rugby World Cup is truly one of the biggest events for Kiwis’, so Heineken did a little bit of research prior.

“We found that over 50 percent of Kiwis are going to be following the Rugby World Cup this year so we asked ourselves instead of just doing the basics around sponsorships what we can do over and above?”.

He says the team came up with some “quite innovative ways” for New Zealanders to be aware of the Rugby World Cup through the Heineken brand.

One is a talking water cooler that has an inbuilt GPS system and a trigger sensor, O’Donnell explains.

“So, while you’re filling up your water bottle the Heineken Water Cooler will give updates on what’s been happening at the Rugby World Cup – both the results of what happened last night and the games playing tonight.

“There are 48 games of rugby for over six weeks. Now, I’m a passionate rugby fan myself, but like many fans I’m probably not going to be able to watch all the games. The Heineken Water Cooler is a way to showcase how fans can keep up with the tournament”.

O’Donnell says the water cooler will be an office activation and the team is looking to take them around a number of workplaces particularly in Auckland during the tournament.

“We’ve also put one out at the Auckland International Airport at the Heineken Flight bar”.

At this stage, Heineken has built one water cooler and have a few more in production.

Another part of the Heineken Rugby World Cup sponsorship is the coin toss.

“As part of the Heineken sponsorship we get one coin toss and that’s happening in one of the semi-final matches,” O’Donnell says.

“Our sales director and one of our customers will be present during the coin-toss. They get to toss the coin in potentially what could be a New Zealand semi-final”.

The Heineken Daily Drop is another initiative the DB team came up with to bring the Rugby World Cup to life.

“We have a number of digital OOH billboards and digital banners on various news sites which we’re updating daily in the morning with a summary of what happened in the games the night before and preview of upcoming games.

“For us, it’s a way to connect with people who are heading into work or are taking a bit of time on their laptop on a news site. Without having to read a long article Heineken will give you a quick summary, some interesting stats, and it will help make your Rugby World Cup experience a little bit better”.

The New Zealand Heineken team were also involved with the global TVC called ‘The Delay’. Featuring familiar faces such as former Wallabies captain George Gregan and former All Black Justin Marshall, it encourages everyone to enjoy the tournament by going with the flow and being part of the crowd around you even if you don’t know what’s happening in the game.

O’Donnell says while the spot was made by its global team, New Zealand was asked to give feedback on the script and helped choose some of the talents within the TVC.

“From a global perspective, we’ve been very much part of designing the Rugby World Cup campaign with the Heineken global team. It’s been a collaborative process so we’re really quite excited about the outcome.

“The Heineken Rugby World Cup TVC also reflects what we found in our research, where we found that most New Zealanders have some degree of knowledge about rugby but only six percent of New Zealanders said they had a ‘masters’ knowledge in terms of being able to tell you all of the rules”.

When asked what Heineken sees in the value of having sponsorship deals at big events like the Rugby World Cup, O’Donnell says rugby is part of Kiwis’ DNA and part of what’s made the country famous on the world stage.

“To be part of a global tournament and celebrate rugby on a global level I think that’s fantastic and suits the Heineken brand. We have had a long relationship with rugby and Heineken is the main sponsor of the European Cup. We’re very proud of our relationship with the game.”

At a local level Heineken has created other ways to enjoy the rugby, such as putting the flags from each of 20 nations on bottles so people can collect them, O’Donnell says.

“Within those, there are lucky Rugby World Cup trophy bottles where if consumers find one, they go into the draw to win a trip to the final for themselves and a friend”.

It has also produced a magnum bottle which O’Donnell hopes will be used in the celebration of the All Blacks winning the tournament. There is also a five-litre Rugby World Cup mini keg available.

And Heineken has an answer for the challenge of the games kicking off at 10.30pm or 11pm due to the time difference – its Heineken 0.0 which it launched last year.

“From a product perspective with our new Heineken 0.0, even if the game finishes at 1 in the morning and you’ve had Heineken 0.0 you can still get up and go to your meeting at 8am,” O’Donnell explains.

For O’Donnell, there are several key parts to a successful sponsorship partnership.

“From our perspective, it’s the ability to really leverage and showcase the sponsor properly. The Rugby World Cup is a great partnership because it allows Heineken to help make the tournament bigger in the eyes of the consumer.

“Obviously, any sponsorship you want to have a huge amount of engagement. We’re lucky that globally rugby is in growth but particularly in New Zealand it’s a passion point and New Zealanders want to talk about it and follow it”.

And while globally Heineken also sponsor Formula One and Champion League football, what makes the Rugby World Cup special is Kiwis’ love for the sport, O’Donnell says.

“To be able to connect New Zealanders and their friends over a Heineken while watching the rugby we feel is a beautiful way to interact with consumers”.

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