Was the 2015 Rugby World Cup the “best ever”?

I was lucky enough to go to the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Final on Saturday at Twickenham.

It was a great occasion and a privilege to see a truly great New Zealand side retain the Webb Ellis trophy.

RWC Final 1

As so often with major sporting events this latest round of the RWC has been hailed as the “best ever”

So how has this been measured? The primary metrics being used seem to be tickets sold and money made for the RWC. And there is no doubt that on this narrow basis RWC 2015 has exceeded the performance of its predecessors – World Rugby has estimated that the commercial value is up by 50% from RWC 2011.

But how has it done on other measures? In particular how has it performed for its many partners and sponsors (http://www.rugbyworldcup.com/sponsor-family) and does that represent value for money for their investments?

Instantly ran a survey of 2,029 people and came to the conclusion that it has not been successful at all. However, asking people how their behaviour has changed or might change in the future as a consequence of sponsorship of a sporting event is a pretty poor way to assess impact. People are unreliable witnesses to their own behaviour and unlikely to admit that their judgement is influenced by a brand’s association with the RWC. People routinely report that advertising does not influence their decision making.

Presumably each of the sponsors did their own analysis in advance as to the potential value of sponsoring RWC 2015. It would have been different in each case but should have predicted the likely increase in their customers’ preference for their products in buying decisions as a result of their association with the tournament compared to what would have happened if they had not become a sponsor (and potentially one of their competitors signed up instead). This predicted increment in sales would have played out over different time frames depending on the purchasing lifecycle in their markets.

However predictions of this sort are too often made in the context of one particular future. A much better understanding of future value comes from exploring the range of possible outcomes for this increment in sales and so the range of possible returns on investment. So investment should be made on the basis of ​the expected​ return across all scenarios, where

Expected Return = SUM Return across scenarios s (Return in s * Probability of scenario s)

The value of sponsorship of the RWC was always going to be closely connected to the progress of the home countries and in particular to the progress of the host and most populous market, England.

About 10 million people watched England’s decisive game against Australia. But by the time Matt Giteau had crossed in the corner to seal England’s fate with 28 days still to go in the tournament the value of RWC sponsorships dropped dramatically.

One week later only 4 million people watched England’s dead rubber game against Uruguay.

More significantly the Final on Saturday only attracted an average audience of 4.7 million in the UK. Compare this with 2003 when 12.3 million people watched England win in Australia, which represented about 77% of the viewing population given it was a morning kick-off. Or the 12.8m who watched England fail to retain the trophy in Paris in 2007.

So to what extent was the money paid by sponsors, broadcasters and indeed fans based on the possibility that England might repeat their 2003 success at home in 2015?

It is understandable that fans might have overweighted the likelihood of that eventuality (and ticket sales might suggest that) but organisations should have been making more rational and balanced assessments.

When organisations make decisions based on what might happen in the future it makes sense for them to exhaustively explore what might be rather than what they would like to be. And make decisions based on well a strategy might perform across that range of possibilities rather just how it might do in optimum circumstances. So how much was a sponsorship worth in the event of an England win, compared to an early exit and everything in between?

Similarly Chris Robshaw might have benefited from clearer analysis when making his fateful decision to kick for the corner in the dying minutes of the match against Wales. Analysis of possible futures would have shown a draw was a decent outcome leaving more viable routes forward for England. It was a more robust strategy in that it would not have degraded as events did not quite go according to plan.

Lacking that foresight, and clearly emotionally clouded by losing a match he thought he would win not 10 minutes earlier, he gambled when he did not need to and condemned England and RWC’s many sponsors to a poorer future as a result.

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