LONDON: As the annual Six Nations rugby tournament prepares to kick off on Saturday, marketers have a unique opportunity to reach a wealthy demographic if they set about it in the right way.

"Rugby fans are a marketing goldmine," according to Craig Tuck, UK managing director at martech business RadiumOne. "Incomes are at least 20% higher than UK average, 71% are social grade AB and they're more likely to respond to advertising across key sectors such as business, finance and automotive."

Canny marketers will look beyond the 125m-strong television audience to tap into fans' digital engagement with the game. RadiumOne's research indicates that every month 7.7 million fans engage with rugby content online and nearly half of rugby fans share content, doing so 2.8 times a day.

The majority (78%) of this sharing, it added, happens via 'dark social' channels, such as email, text and instant messaging, which can't be measured via web analytics; just 14% of sharing takes place on Facebook and 6% on Twitter.

But rugby fans sharing content via dark social are six times more likely to engage with Six Nations, which "proves how powerful it is for marketers because sharing this way carries more weight as its done on a 1-2-1 basis with family or close friends, rather than the 'blanket' approach on social networks," said Tuck.

"The likes of O2, IBM, MasterCard and Guinness have utilised dark social to great effect," he added. (Readers can download a summary chapter from Warc's Toolkit 2017 on what the rise of dark social and chart apps means for marketers.)

Mobile will be key in 2017, as the volume of Six Nations content shared via this channel has almost doubled, from 28% in 2016 to 47% in the run-up to this year's competition.

There are major differences around the type of Six Nations content shared publicly and privately, RadiumOne noted: fixtures and results dominate dark social sharing, accounting for 56%, followed by the tournament table (31%).

However, the most popular content shared publicly is the TV/coverage schedule (42%) and team news (38%).

"Understanding these differences can help marketers target fans with paid media more effectively," Tuck stated.

Last year RBS, the UK bank, announced it was ending its long-running association with the tournament, and the organisers recently indicated they were seeking a global sponsor prepared to pay £100m over six years.

"We want a sponsor who is actively engaged not just in Britain, but around the world," explained Six Nations chief executive John Feehan. "We see potential in markets like the USA. We want a brand to align with that."

Data sourced from RadiumOne, MailOnline; additional content by Warc staff