Major, cyclical sports events and their sponsored brands over the past ten years have had to navigate the ever-changing social media landscape. It was only eight years ago that London 2012 was dubbed the ‘Social Media Olympics’.

The success of World Rugby’s + 2 billion video views from Japan 2019 is a testament to an organisation that has kept up with social media. By leveraging various platforms they actively have built support for the sport.

Japan 2019 social media stats


Japan 2019 could be argued as the second Rugby World Cup to integrate and fully accept social media. The All Blacks banned the team from using social media during the 2011 tournament. The focus of the 2011 Rugby World Cup predominantly was what players should do and not do when tweeting or sharing posts.

The collaborative approach included international unions and agencies like Fifty Digital, Engage Digital Partners and Grabyo demonstrated the gravity of the work that goes behind the delivery.

For context, a few changes to social media video platforms between England 2015 and Japan 2019.

  • March 2016: Instagram videos became a minute long from 15 seconds
  • May 2016: Twitter handles, photos and videos would no longer count in the then 140 character limit (280 characters as of November 2018)
  • August 2016: Instagram introduced Stories
  • September 2017: TikTok launched
  • June 2018: Instagram launched IGTV

There is no crystal ball to predict the future or guess what exact platforms may emerge by the next major sports event.

So how can brands and major events prepare ahead?


1. Understand and track the audience

I wanted to use the word ‘fan’, but the content is going to an audience. Good content keeps those that are fans already engaged. Great content lures an audience and converts them to fans.

  • Quality over quantity, a blanket approach to content and strategy never works
  • Continually note the content and platforms that resonate with the current audience and the target audience
  • Always ask, why?
  • In the case of World Rugby, their focus shifted towards Gen Z platforms (TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube). They also localised content to Japanese markets


2. Flexible and Proactive

Legal and commercial departments will need to work closely and be further flexible with contracts and their brands.

  • Deliverables over time must be open to change
  • Contracts will require a level of flexibility
  • Both parties must give way to one another. Decisions must be justified as to how they wish to alter or differentiate their digital approach or assets


3. The thinkers will win

Time and time again in every single industry, to think outside the box and to tune into emerging trends proves successful.

  • Brands and events that adapt and change their thinking in line with societal shifts & trends, emerging social media platforms and those with their finger on the pulse will reap the rewards
  • Thinkers go against the grain – always


4. Go beyond face value with data, dig deeper

The three lowest social media platforms to contribute to the overall 2.04 billion figure were those the most popular with Gen Z:

  • YouTube (110 038 272)
  • Instagram (posts) (75 603 700)
  • Snapchat (94 392 000).


Those figures may appear to show Gen Z fans were less engaged. However, the insights within the numbers are positive. They demonstrate new markets and growth achieved, which is exactly what was wanted by World Rugby ahead of the 2019 tournament.



Despite the uncertainty currently, major events will return in time to come, and digital platforms will continue to develop.

How we keep up, how we evolve with societal shifts and how we adapt to deliver sustainable business, and the growth of sports audiences will be the real test.


Thanks to Lona Price Jones for contributing ‘Navigating social media between major events: Japan 2019‘ to Behind Sport!


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