Rugby has a unique opportunity. Save for the London Olympics, there hasn’t been an event close to the scale of what will take place in England in the digital age and even those great summer games were three years ago.

The last time the Rugby World Cup was in this part of the world was 2007, where social was in its infancy. England hasn’t hosted a competition with this kind of geographic spread since UEFA Euro 96, when most people reading this didn’t even have an internet connection of mobile phone.

This competition presents a chance for rugby to be the standard bearer. The 2015 Rugby World Cup can set a new standard in fan engagement. It’s a huge opportunity but one that comes with rabid expectations from fans, sponsors, and all other stakeholders. At the heart of this, the main touch point, is the App. All stakeholders expect a tournament app to not only exist and provide information but to give them a chance to engage and be part of the story.

Here we look at how the 2015 Rugby World Cup App is addressing these demands and why it’s critical to the competition’s commercial success.

Fan Experience

Right from the off this app wins with two key moves. The opening screen is a countdown clock until the action starts, getting fans thinking about interacting before the games actually start. As soon as you are in the interactivity begins with trivia questions for fans. Crucially, this is instant but avoidable. If you don’t want to engage in that way, the location towards the bottom of the interface means move to more conventional data is seamless.

The competitive nature of the sport even plays true under the social tab. Fans can easily see recent updates from players, fans, and unions, but also see how their nation ranks in activity. Australia, for example, may be one of the leading nations in the sport but the social stats table shows the Wallabies are taking a pounding. That’s going to get New Zealanders talking.

RWC 2015 APP

The interactivity with rugby goes far beyond the basic level of gaming. Fans expect a great deal of data presented quickly, wherever they are, and in a manner they can translate. This isn’t just so they can get a better understanding of what they see, it’s so they can make arguments on Twitter and Facebook.

As Tecwyn Davies, Digital Project Manager at World Rugby explains, “the aim was to deliver an interactive and engaging mobile app to fans which of course gives them the latest news and updates as quickly as possible.”

Ultimately, however, the expectation of the fans required more,  “the app also includes an interactive Match Centre section for all matches and a dedicated ‘my team’ section which has all the latest info on their favourite team. Incorporated in to the app also are some light hearted concepts such as a weekly video quiz, a trivia and the official Rugby World Cup Dream Team game. This ensures that fans keep on coming back and interacting with the app on non-match days.”

This focus on engagement is critical, sentiments echoed by Accenture stakeholders who delivered on the RBS 6 Nations App. “Fans are getting more used to interacting with digital at games, whether they are at the games or watching on TV,” said Paul Pierotti, managing director of Accenture Digital.

“Fans are geeks, they are nerds, they love really going into detail of games. They expect a much more blended idea of in-game entertainment. We are looking at new ways to deliver that.”

During the 6 Nations Accenture ran experiments with Google Glass to see how fans interacted and have considered ideas like reactive jerseys so fans can feel hits when players take a tackle.

Even on a more conventional level, it’s still an educational process. Accenture Rugby saw that its provision of data during the 6 Nations shaped how fans interacted on social networks.

“One thing we saw with our app was that we provided in-game analytics, using 1.6 million data items, to present them in a visual manner to project what is going to happen during the game. This is the level fans expect, they are intelligent and knowledgable about the game. They want to be able to prove hypotheses during games,” said Pierotti.

That’s the high bar set for the Rugby World Cup. The 6 Nations is, relatively speaking, a sprint compared to the big one. There are more games, more permutations, more places fans want to engage, and far more room for debate. Data provision and interactive tools are seen as mandatory by fans at home and in stadia.

Stadium Experience

Those expectations are the template. That is the absolute least the 2015 Rugby World Cup had to deliver to keep supporters, wherever they are, satisfied. To excel, the digital team had to go to another level and in-stadium is the difference maker here.

The Rugby World Cup’s partnership with Blippar has made a match ticket more than a way to get in the gate. Augmented reality software built into the ticket gives fans access to match previews and analysis along with a view from their seat in 360 degrees. That is a touch point that builds excitement and gets fans thinking from the moment the ticket is in their hands. Seeing a ticket arrive in the post can get dreams flowing but actually offering a way to visualise that is next level.

It is, at a fundamental level, fan service. The concept has been well-trodden by the Harlem Globetrotters theatrics to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s direct engagement with his fans but this technology is allowing for a level of personalisation no sports team or actor could dream of.

This builds the story for each individual fan, to tell their own unique Rugby World Cup experience. Facebook and Twitter are naturally going to be hives of activity during the games but this type of technology gives those splashing out on tickets something their friends don’t have. It puts the tournament organisers at the heart of the conversation, shaping it with the fans.

Digital Sponsorship Initiatives

The RWC app is subtle in delivery of its sponsorship opportunities through the app. The six core sponsors are present on the opening page but the Rugby World Cup is keen to not over-sell this aspect. Essentially, the movement is going from treating digital as a value-add to a value-leader.

“We have a fantastic group of Sponsors and are proud of our close relationships which are the cornerstone of our partnership. Each one has a clear strategy and offers something different to the tournament and to fans, ” according to Tecwyn Davies.

While that it’s no surprise to hear those sentiments, what it surprising is how effectively the RWC app managed to incorporate and differentiate across individual Sponsors strategy. The screenshots below illustrate how different app gamification elements complement a specific Sponsorship activation:

 

    Mastercard man of the match                       DHL rugby trivia quiz

Mastercard Man of The Match                                              DHL Rugby Trivia Quiz

As with any live event app, the challenge is to engage with fans attending matches but also those not attending, “Since the majority of users won’t be attending due to venue capacities … the use of location based services available in the app, allow us to push relevant content to people based on their location and certain attributes (age, sex, favourite team) that we’ve collected through the onboarding process,” explains Tecwyn.

“This means that the messages being delivered to users is of relevance to them, whether they are attending a match, at an official fanzone or watching at home.” By showing this level of positive fan segmentation, they can encourage engagement, resulting in the digital team enhancing the overall value of the app.

The crucial factor in order to make this work however is not leading the conversation, that’s the easy argument to prove, it’s showing the connectivity is there to enable engagement in the stadium so sponsors are getting the most from the fan experience.

“It’s increasingly relevant, I was at the last Ireland home game before the Rugby World Cup and I was trying to use a betting app on my phone for another event. It took five minutes to place the bet, that wasn’t an app issue it was purely down to the connectivity in the stadium,” said Pierotti.

In order to avoid such issues, BT has gone full steam ahead with improving connectivity in stadia and, in one notable case, across an entire host city. The telecoms provider is ramping up support for 4G access while Gloucester has rolled out free wifi across the entire city. The goal is simple, everyone needs to be able to interact.

By being able to back up it’s overall product in terms of digital delivery with the infrastructure support to enable fan engagement, the Rugby World Cup has built a valuable digital proposition that increases the overall tournament value to sponsors.

Guest Post By Emmet Ryan

Emmet Ryan is Tech, Beer and Betting Journalist for the Sunday Business Post. Emmet is also editor of BallinEurope.com, Europe’s biggest English language basketball site. Follow him on Twitter @action81

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TEAM AND EVENT APP REVIEWS 

This article is part of our series of Live Event App reviews where we look to understand best practice and current industry standards with a series investigating the potential of market leading Team or Live Event apps. Check out the other team/event app reviews that we’ve done here:

  1. Official Rugby World Cup App: A Review of how Fans made the Rugby World Cup a Digital Business
  2. San Francisco 49ers App: Examining how VenueNext re-invented the 49ers Fan Experience
  3. Real Madrid App: Real Madrid Keep Fans and Sponsors Happy With Unique Mobile App
  4. Barclays Center App: Barclays Center Creates a Digital Fan Experience via Interactive App

Check back soon for the latest in our series or sign up to our Monthly Sports Tech Review to get informed as soon as it’s available.