Six Nations Sponsorship Report
The Six Nations finale last Saturday saw Ireland secure the Grand Slam on St Patrick’s Day weekend – surely the dream advertisement for the event’s beloved title sponsor, Guinness. There were just four main sponsors of the Guinness Six Nations, each looking to use their product directly to enhance the sporting and viewing experience. Below, we assess exactly how effectively these partnerships were leveraged to benefit both parties.
Guinness – Official Title Sponsor and Official Responsible Drinking Partner
As expected, Guinness, who signed a six-year deal to be title sponsor in 2019, had a huge visual presence at the Six Nations. Promoting their largest ever responsible drinking campaign, Guinness’ 0.0% alcohol drink logo featured on the pitch, corner flags, and the protection pads on the goalposts. Even beyond that visual branding, Guinness banked on their established position as an alcoholic beverage company, to attract a new audience of non-drinkers or those looking to reduce their alcohol intake.
The 0.0% drink was launched in large part as a response to the pandemic, where real fears grew of rising alcohol abuse. This commitment could be seen at the Six nations on some of their billboards around the pitch, which featured the phrase ‘not drinking?’ It may seem counterintuitive for a historically alcoholic brand to be leading potential drinkers away from its main export, but 0.0% has opened up the experience of watching Rugby at the pub or elsewhere to those excluded by rugby’s drinking culture.
After revealing a large increase in sales in Northern Ireland, Guinness-maker Diageo handed out 50,000 free pints of alcohol-free Guinness over St Patrick’s Day. They also rebranded the Common Market in Belfast by replacing the two o’s in ‘common’ with two zeros. Roughly 150 pubs were a pint of Guinness 0.0 via the AnyExcuse app across March 16-19.
Guinness supported over 15,000 outlets and by putting Guinness 0.0% at the heart of their Six Nations plans, they doubled down on their ‘Never Settle’ campaign - a Guinness-led inclusivity initiative aimed at making rugby a place where everyone can belong and participate. Past successes with ‘Never Settle’ include being named Ireland’s best loved sponsor after their tireless work to promote women’s rugby. From a public perception standpoint, it’s fantastic to see Guinness actively contending with prevailing issues around alcohol sponsorship, contending with growing awareness for the negative effects of alcohol, and crucially doing so with a campaign that has real life positive impacts.
They had a very apparent sense of timing and responsibility and their work with the Six Nations went slickly with their concurrent campaign called “Make it a St. Patrick’s Day to Remember”. As the title quite smartly suggests, it's about a different way of enjoying an event that typically involves a lot of alcohol. Considering recent calls for alcohol sponsorship bans within sport, Guinness did a very good, expansive job of suggesting a third option in which they use their position as an established alcohol brand to promote a new culture-wide relationship to alcohol that is based on enjoyment not dependence.
As part of their fan engagement, Guinness held four fanzones in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Manchester. The function of these zones was to provide an atmosphere similar to that of a game so that people who missed out on expensive tickets can access that intense, involved experience. Alongside giant screens and an intense atmosphere, they featured guest appearances, game-themed menus, courses on how to pour the perfect pint, live entertainment, and quizzes. As Guinness say, “it’s the next best thing to being inside the stadiums themselves.”
One potential issue with fanzones is that they take possible custom away from the pubs which give Guinness so much business and the fans such a memorable experience. But as anyone who stepped outside on Saturday knows, there was no shortage of packed pubs for the Ireland vs England game; it would be fairer to say that these fanzones ensured everyone had a place to view the matches.
Guinness’ Six Nations sponsorship was dominated by their 0.0% product. While there were many impressive aspects of this front-and-centre approach, it’s extensive presence may have dwarfed other elements of the campaign. Nonetheless, the company’s genuine devotion to inclusivity was on full display and that will live long in the memory of viewers.
TikTok – Official Fans of the Guinness Six Nations
TikTok will bring scale to whatever project they become involved in. After there were almost six billion views with the hashtag #SixNationsRugby in 2022, TikTok were looking to cement themselves as fan representatives of the event. Everything they did had both fans and players in mind, from promoting creators in each of the competing nations, to providing a platform for players to show another side of professional Rugby. In their words, they are a ‘soundbox of creativity’ for displaying all sides of the sporting experience.
@therugbyguyofficial A brilliant day out at Murrayfield with @Guinness Six Nations! 🏴❤️🏉 #SixNations #SixNationsRugby #TheRugbyGuy #AwakenAnticipation #ScotlandRugby #Rugby ♬ original sound - The Rugby Guy
Developing from last year, TikTok set up a ‘search hub,’ which allowed users who engage with one Six Nations-related video, to then encounter videos like rule explanations or highlights. This created a journey-like experience for fans and no doubt satisfied a lot of keen interest, while also feeding pre-existing fans of the sport.
Fully utilising their content wingspan, TikTok Top Picks presented a selection of trending videos which “captured the spirit of the Six Nations” and included everything from crunching tackles to on-air commentary slip ups. It provided a platter of snackable content in a manageable load and was an entertaining source of highlights.
TikTok’s platform is uniquely suited to player protection at a time when social media companies are being scrutinised for their capacity to look after athletes. Beyond their ‘Swipe out Hate’ campaign with a number of elite athletes, DMs can only be sent by followers, further protecting players from the negative side of fan engagement. That, together with the fact that player users could depart from templated press conferences and actually express themselves, made TikTok a truly ideal match on both sides of the sport.
In their press releases, TikTok focused heavily on the fact that they will be title partners for the Women’s Six Nations (starting this Saturday). Although Guinness remained title sponsors for the Men’s Six Nations, TikTok brought their remarkable scale and engagement capabilities to the event in superbly dedicated fashion.
Sage – Official Insights Partner
“At the convergence of sports and technology, you will find data and analytics.” This was the thinking behind Sage Data & Analytics sponsorship of the Guinness Six Nations, and their services were very effectively involved in this campaign.
Sage issued all participating teams, coaches, and players useful insights to improve performance and decision-making, deepening understanding of the game. At a level of performing that is so heavily dictated by marginal gains, this level of insight is crucial. While atomised performance details are not new to professional sports, Sage claims they are “fostering innovation.” Their presence, both visible and on the team’s drawing boards, seems to support this.
By employing smart ball technology, Sage were able to provide in-game stats like kick hang times and territorial gains, to fans, thus ensuring that their analytical capabilities were not just featured behind closed doors. This helped to make the overall viewing experience more impressive, delivering fascinating stats and data to new and more long-term.
This campaign follows a growing presence in sport for Sage and their smart ball technology, after they signed multi-year deals with Major League Baseball and The Hundred. During the Six Nations, they also collaborated with fellow sponsors to produce informative content - an example of how entering a sponsorship can provide mutative networking opportunities.
This was a palpably worthwhile and smart sponsorship that had real life effects. While it was not plastered across the event in the way that Guinness or TikTok was, Sage’s functional and impactful product was deeply involved in a meaningful way.
Breitling – Official Timing Sponsor
The partnership with Breitling covers the Guinness Six Nations, Women’s Six Nations and Autumn Nations Series, as well as any Home Union warm up matches ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023.
The luxury Swiss watchmaker selected ambassadors from each of the competing countries and presented them with a watch designed in their nation’s colours (these watches are available at £7,400.00). In terms of maintaining awareness as a luxury brand, this venture certainly vindicates that. Indeed, that may be all Breitling sought from this partnership.
Nevertheless, Breitling’s presence during the Six Nations was minimal. The company failed to seek avenues towards fan engagement with the same success of TikTok or Sage and this was the most glaringly obvious limitation of their campaign. The press releases too were sparse on activation details and used up potential space with overly enthusiastic soundbites that seemed almost deliberately vacuous.
Ultimately, this sponsorship did not capitalise on the position afforded to it by such a worldwide event, but it did maintain perceptions of Breitling as a high-calibre and illustrious watchmaker.