South Africa had the honor of hosting the FIFA World Cup last year. The drone of vuvuzelas still haunts me to this day. The event was a huge success and South Africa wants the opportunity to host another international sporting tournament. South Africa unfortunately lost its bid for both the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup tournaments to England and Japan respectively.
What went wrong?
These bids are based not only on the economic strength and infrastructure of a country, but also the International Rugby Board’s overall perception of a country’s passion for the sport of Rugby. The IRB member nations vote for the host of any upcoming Rugby Word Cup Tournaments.
In its bid for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) chose to focus mainly on its financial backing from the South African government and infrastructure when making its case. The organization missed huge opportunities to capitalize on what would have been a historic event that would bring attention to a sport that, despite it’s long history, has not captured the imagination of the world like other sports such as soccer. South Africa, having just hosted the World cup, could have leveraged some of that attention onto the Rugby World Cup. Also, 2015 would have marked the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Rugby World Cup where South Africa not only hosted, but also won the tournament. This was their first appearance in the tournament, and they were only allowed to participate after the end of apartheid in 1992. The story was depicted in the 2009 Clint Eastwood film Invictus. Oh and not to mention that the Springboks, the South African rugby team, are the current Rugby World Cup champions. The Springboks’ attempt to regain the championship at home would have made for great sports drama.
So What Now?
The desire to host another Rugby World cup has not faded but SARU needs to begin to assert itself as a Rugby powerhouse off the field. Rugby is wildly popular in South Africa and as the film Invictus depicts, the sport has served to unite a post-apartheid South Africa. SARU needs to build its online community in order to better connect rugby fans and build upon the national interest that’s already happening. The organization has the bare bones of a social media strategy. The high levels of activity on the team’s Facbook page demonstrate the fans’ desire to interact and engage. There are several areas where SARU could engage more.
The SARU website does have a live Twitter feed. However, upon closer inspection, the site itself has a dismal 53 followers! The organization only follows 15 people on Twitter in return. Worse, the organization has only tweed once. This is no way to utilize such a powerful tool. They need someone to focus on building up their Twitter account and provide interesting insider information to their fans. The best resource the organization has is the players themselves. The site should recruit the Springboks players to tweet about their experiences at practice, before and after matches, and during the upcoming Rugby World Cup which starts September 9th in New Zealand.
User Generated Content:
The team has its own YouTube channel which is in its infancy, but to reach it, a user has to be on the Facebook page. The SARU website should have a link prominently displayed on the website, and/or allow fans to upload personal experiences to the site related to the Springboks or even just their own experiences playing the sport of Rugby. Users could upload video of Rugby World Cup Watching parties as well. The organization needs to get more personal with fans and allow them to be a part of the content presented on the site.
The site has no RSS feed. The site should allow fans to subscribe to a news feed to allow them to stay abreast of Springbok news. The site also lacks any features or apps for smartphone users. In a country with such a large number of smart phone users, it is imperative that SARU utilizes the technology to build conversation.
The site could actually learn a thing or two from their competition in New Zealand, the All Blacks. The team’s site is extremely fan-friendly and incorporates much of the technology I mentioned above. In addition, the site offers smart phone apps for fans with mobile phones. With its high level of smartphone penetration, it is imperative that SARU utilizes the technology to build conversation.
The All Blacks site offers a feature where fans can write about their opinions about the All Blacks and their competitors. This provides a built-in community and high levels of engagement that fans would normally have to leave the site to achieve. Rather than disseminating information in a nice package, the organization takes a risk and allows for a free flow of information between themselves and fans.
The end result is a sense of ownership for the fans that breeds loyalty.
As I wrote this post, I listened to the live stream of IRB Total Rugby’s broadcast (which is smartly embedded into the SARU site) and a new Zealand player was being interviewed. He spoke about the importance not only of the Rugby World Cup tournament itself, but the fact that countries want to show off their country. He spoke about the importance of the community with the fans and their enthusiasm that make the experience so special. South Africa needs to gain the reputation as a rugby-loving nation with the ability to host a successful Rugby World Cup. Social media will give them the tools to do it.