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Brands are wary but will England Rise Again?

As an avid rugby fan, big Stuart Lancaster advocate and, dare I say it, ex-rugby player (aren’t we all?), I was gutted after the England team ignominiously bombed out of last year’s Rugby World Cup without even reaching the group stages – a record for a host nation.

However this disappointment has transformed into excitement – and a touch of nervousness – after the RFU installed a new manager and subsequently a new captain in an attempt to improve future performances.

While the IRB and the event sponsors were quick to describe the Rugby World Cup as a success – and it helped generate record TV ad revenue figures – there’s little doubt that the fact that England did so poorly put a dampener on the occasion.

Perhaps that’s why the build up to this year’s Six Nations, which starts this weekend and is shared by the BBC and ITV, has been a rather more muted affair in comparison to previous years. It’s possible too that many rugby sponsors will also be a bit more cautious in showing their support for the home nation following some of the hype around the Rugby World Cup.

O2 created one of the most memorable campaigns around the Rugby World Cup – unfortunately it was for all the wrong reasons. Its epic “Wear the Rose” animated campaign (which personally I love and gave me Goosebumps the first time I saw it), which was supplemented with changes to the signage to its shops, sadly ended up looking rather bombastic after Stuart Lancaster’s team crashed out against Australia.

Even though some of the Six Nations games are being shown on ITV, other than a few promotional trailers there hasn’t seemed to have been the rush from brands to associate themselves with the tournament in general and the England team in particular – I personally can’t remember one ad. It’s possible then that they have learned the lessons from O2 and not go the full monty from the outset.

As was shown during the Rugby World Cup, event sponsors, such as DHL and Heineken, are slightly more insulated against surprise results than those – such as O2 – that sponsor a particular team. However, a counter-argument goes that they may also find that they do not enjoy the same emotional connection with fans. Moreover, there is the suggestion that those brands that stick with teams through thick and thin show a deeper commitment to creating a real partnership rather than just indulging in a speculative sponsorship.

It’s possible, though, that the reason that there has yet to be the noise from brands around the Six Nations is the same as it is for England fans. They are waiting to see if the arrival of Eddie Jones and Dylan Hartley will translate to an improvement on the pitch before throwing their entire weight behind the team. I hope that this improvement will come – and it’ll be interesting to see how brands respond if England lift the Six Nations Trophy at the Stade de France on 19th March.