Blog : Rugby

Going upstairs risks putting rugby fans to bed

Going upstairs risks putting rugby fans to bed

As the dust settles on this year’s RBS Six Nations, it’s a chance to reflect on what’s been another entertaining championship.

In many respects the tournament will be remembered for England’s Gram Slam winning efforts, as they look to rebuild after an embarrassing World Cup exit last October.

At Stripe we’re always keen to explore how brands are finding new and interesting ways to engage with their fans. And while I could discuss each nation’s marketing credentials in more detail, there is a major talking point in need of some serious airtime.

Going upstairs to consult the Television Match Official (TMO) is a current moot point in world rugby. If you’re not familiar with the in-game technology, TMO is a tool used to help match-day officials make ‘accurate and consistent decisions’ in key areas such as whether the ball crossed the line for a try.

While there’s no doubt about the need for this technology to exist, there is a growing perception amongst fans and pundits alike that referees are now relying too heavily on TMO to make decisions.

Rugby, like all professional sport, is a game of fine margins. The decision to award a try or not can mean the difference between success and failure.

However, there is a fear that referees’ liberal use of this technology risks spoiling the spectacle for fans.

This was evident in the first match of the Rugby World Cup between England and Fiji last year. After months of media hype, all eyes were on Twickenham – including tens of thousands of potential new rugby fans.

This was rugby’s moment to show the world why this thrilling high impact sport is so admired. Instead, the match was a less than compelling stop-start affair, with the referee punch-drunk on TMO.

Twitter went bonkers. Fans new and old weighed in, criticising the referee and the way TMO was sobering the passion of the moment.

The relevant authorities responded to criticism saying only 28 per cent of stoppage time lost in the opening match was taken up by the TMO process.

While this figure might not sound like much, I’d argue that any amount of time wasted watching a big screen during a live event disrupts engagement, dampens spirits and draws attention away from the magic of the experience.

Concern over TMO was also evident in this year’s Six Nations, when England flanker, James Haskell, was sin binned against Ireland. Hyper slow motion replays adjudged Haskell to have illegally collided with an Irish player. In the days that followed, Haskell spoke out against TMO, arguing that gasps of the crowd had influenced the referee’s decision and that repeated replays make contact seem worse than in real time.

High profile sporting events are already a battleground for brands vying to grab our attention. No doubt savvy marketers are already plotting ways they can exploit moments of TMO boredom to win our love. In-game advertising and mobile targeting will continue to grow and evolve which will no doubt impact on the way fans interact and engage with rugby and other sports in the future. But as we continue to discover at Stripe, targeted content must still be relevant and resonate with fans to make the message stick.

Live sport is one of the most compelling human experiences we have available, putting us in touch with our most primal emotions. While in-game technology has its place in sport, I worry what we stand to lose.

Sport is an ever-growing commercial arena, where accurate decision-making is essential. But the longer we are sent upstairs to endure endless stoppages in play, the less likely the sport will attract fans from new markets and ensure existing tribes are kept entertained.

The journey of a rugby shirt fit for a giant

The journey of a rugby shirt fit for a giant

Similar to my first two months working with Stripe, the journey of the Strathmore rugby shirt has been fast-paced, dynamic and exciting.

It’s safe to say that everyone in the office was thinking two things throughout this project: 1) when will we stop hearing about this shirt? And 2) has Ben relocated to Murrayfield Stadium? The Strathmore team spent weeks planning and navigating through the various complications of this task. But the feeling of accomplishment when it all came together was exhilarating. As a recent graduate, getting so much hands on experience into something of this scale was really motivating as I take my first steps into the world of PR Comms.

As a sports fanatic, I was thrilled when I was added to the Strathmore team. Strathmore, as part of their Do More sponsorship of sport, are the official water supplier for Scottish rugby, swimming and gymnastics. And with so many big events this year like the Gymnastics World Championships and the Rugby World Cup, I can’t wait to get a taste of the action.

The idea of the shirt was born in one of our ‘Stripey Thinking’ sessions in early August where the best creative ideas are born at Stripe HQ. To wish the team good luck ahead of their Rugby World Cup journey we decided to create a massive rugby shirt which fans could sign before the Scotland v Italy summer test match. The journey began when we had to find a supplier who could create our 8m x 5.5m shirt fit for a giant. Following a week or so of planning, designing and discussion, we were finally given the green light to crack on with production and planning the in ground activity. This involved ordering staging, a marquee, branded signage and astro-turf.

The shirt was delivered to Murrayfield the day before our photo call with Scotland internationals Blair Cowan, Fraser Brown and David Denton. This was one of numerous times during this project I was lucky enough to stand inside an empty Murrayfield stadium. The buzz the players must get when the stadium is full must be out of this world! The photo call was a success and the weather was perfect. We got some great shots and video footage of the players.

It was quite surreal getting to interview David Denton and Fraser Brown in the stands, asking them about their active lifestyles and preparations ahead of their upcoming matches. I think this is why I enjoy PR, because it has a good balance between media relations, event management and journalism – plus the perks of running around Scotland’s national rugby stadium.

Match-day came around quickly and following the set-up of our fan zone, we started welcoming in the fans to sign our shirt. Over 750 signatures and 25 Sharpie pens later, the mission was complete. A big pat on the back for Team Strathmore and everyone else involved, which was made even better by Scotland triumphing against Italy 48-7 in a record-breaking win – boom!

I think the biggest learning experience since arriving at Stripe has been realising all the different components that go into making a project firstly happen, and secondly, a success. With strong teamwork and a genuine passion for the brand we managed to put the pieces of the jig-saw together and I can’t wait to Do More with this account going forward.

Scottish rugby fans have a ball with Strathmore

Scottish rugby fans have a ball with Strathmore

It wasn’t just the rugby players that were put through their paces at this year’s RBS 6 Nations.

As part of our sponsorship activity with Strathmore, we encouraged supporters to be more active in their daily routines with the ‘Strathmore Do More Tryathlon’.

At BT Murrayfield – the home of Scottish Rugby – we ran the ‘Do More Zone’ with a passing game and ladder drill for fans to try out, and a Batak Challenge which put their reactions to the test.

The ‘Do More Zone’ was in action during the three home matches against Wales, Italy and Ireland with supporters from all sides taking part.

Our Tryathlon winners were paraded on the pitch at half time and presented with signed Scotland jerseys and tickets to a future match.

Check out the ‘Strathmore Do More’ film here.