Rugby and beer have long been bedfellows. Since time immemorial, gnarled and cauliflower-eared players have taken enormous pleasure in knocking seven bells out of each other on the pitch, before retiring to the bar to share a friendly pint.
Even now, in the age of sporting professionalism, it is a rugby tradition kept alive with almost religious zeal. The nutritionists and fitness conditioners might have a gentle word about the volume of consumption, but they also recognise the importance of a timely jar.
That tradition is just one of the reasons that the brewing industry has taken such a strong lead in rugby sponsorship over the years. Of the many involved, Heineken can perhaps lay claim to the most enduring of partnerships. With the Rugby World Cup just days away now, the managing director of their UK arm is bursting with excitement at the prospect of seven glorious weeks of egg-chasing.
“This event is absolutely massive for us,” explains David Forde, a natural enthusiast with 27 years at Heineken behind him. “We’ve been official partners at every World Cup bar one. But since the last time it was held in the UK in 1991, the sport has gone professional, and has just exploded. For our customers the impact of rugby has become enormous. We always like to associate the Heineken brand with truly world class sporting events. Sport and beer is a beautiful fit.
“The footprints of rugby and Heineken are almost perfect in their overlap. We have a very strong position in the UK, Ireland and France. We are well established in New Zealand and Australia, and then there are markets like Argentina and Romania where the rugby is growing, and the Heineken brand is growing alongside it.”
Forde himself grew up in the west of Ireland – “next stop Boston” – and quite naturally has a passion for Connacht and the men in green. “I’m actually from hurling country,” he explains. “I suppose you could describe it as hockey for lunatics, but I’m an avid rugby fan and I can’t wait for the whole thing to kick off. In Joe Schmidt I think Ireland has the best coach in the world at the moment, but I don’t think the World Cup has ever been tighter. Ideally we want a good run from all the home nations, that would be good for all of us involved I think, but in the latter stages my “green” blood would have to take over.”
So with around 450,000 visitors from overseas due to arrive for the rugby, and an estimated £1 billion boost to the UK economy, it is essential that official partners like Heineken make hay in the next few weeks.
“We have a global programme for the Rugby World Cup,” beams Forde, a man clearly energised at the prospect. “That involves global advertising, on-trade promotion - in pubs and supermarkets - and the use of our seven rugby ‘legends’ like All Black superstar Jonah Lomu, and former South Africa captain John Smit. They’ll be offering their analysis, insights and opinions across digital platforms and social media, and of course on site at our hospitality venues.
“We are also giving the chance for 48 consumers from around the world to come to England and participate in the coin toss, before each World Cup game. And we will have a big presence at the 11 “fanzones” within the host cities across the UK. If you’re not lucky enough to have tickets for a game, you can go down to the local fanzone and enjoy the rugby on big screens, mix with all the visitors and have a cold glass of beer.”
Whilst sport and beer might be a perfect fit for the marketing men, there is always the concern that the mix might lead to unsavoury scenes which could scar the event. Traditionally rugby enjoys a good reputation when it comes to behaviour, rivalries and mingling fans. Forde accepts, though, that the message of responsible drinking needs to be driven home loud and clear, to avoid any trouble.
“We take this very seriously, and we have to communicate that message properly,” he said. “We have a lot of experience of it, particularly with our involvement in football’s Champions League and rugby’s Heineken Cup (now the Champions Cup). Fans tend to mix beautifully at rugby matches, they enjoy a drink, and we’ve never had any difficulties with consumption at a Rugby World Cup – but we’ll ensure that our message of responsibility is highly visible at the tournament.”
To find out more information about Heineken’s campaign around Rugby World Cup 2015 and for your chance to open Rugby World Cup 2015, visit www.heineken.com/rugby or follow @heineken #ItsYourCall