LONDON: Heineken, the brewer, intends to make the Rugby World Cup being held in the UK this autumn its biggest marketing platform of the year, with a particular focus on digital.

The brand has a long association with the sport, having sponsored previous World Cups as well as a Europe-wide club tournament for twenty years until 2014, one reason it plans to focus on loyalty rather than brand awareness this time around.

Tim Ellerton, global sponsorship manager at Heineken, told The Drum that rugby fans tended to show greater affinity with sponsors, citing Repucom figures showing 49% were more likely to choose the products of an official partner over rival brands, compared to 46% of tennis fans and 45% of football supporters.

"The challenge today is not how to reach a wide audience, because digital media has made this possible, but how you amplify sponsorship deals to enhance the brand image," said Ellerton.

"We're already talking to a captive audience who actually like our brand and our products," he said. RWC sponsorship might reach fewer markets than that of a competition like football's Champion's League, "but in those markets such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia it will be one of the biggest marketing assets that we work from".

The brand intends to lift a few plays from its football experience however, where it has found the use of ex-players, delivering on social and mobile the sort of match insights that TV pundits steer clear of, an effective way of cutting through brand clutter.

"We're planning a big TV [campaign] and experiential activities to support our sponsorship of what will be the biggest marketing asset we have this year," said Ellerton, adding that, on the basis of ticket sales, this year's competition promised to be the biggest to date.

The sport's growing profile has seen sponsorship revenue jump 50% since the 2011 event in New Zealand, leading organisers to take steps to crack down on ambush marketing, one example being the booking of all outdoor media sites close to venues.

Data sourced from The Drum; additional content by Warc staff