IMG plans World Rugby licensing continuity and to 'crack' video game conundrum
A new licensing tie-up between World Rugby and IMG, the international sports and entertainment agency, will focus on creating a continuous programme in between editions of the showpiece quadrennial Rugby World Cup.
IMG, World Rugby’s long-standing commercial sales agent, was today appointed to manage the international federation’s global licensing and merchandising rights to not only the Rugby World Cup tournaments in 2019 and 2023, but also the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the World Rugby U20 Championship and the World Rugby brand itself.
The deal represents a shift in strategy involving a move away from creating a licensing and merchandising programme around the World Cup tournaments alone, according to Bruno Maglione, president of IMG’s licensing division.
He told Sportcal: “Fundamentally the licensing programmes in the past were stop and start tournament programmes for the Rugby World Cup. The show rolled into town, you had the licensing and merchandising around it and then everyone packed up and left and that was the end of the licensing and merchandising programme.
“Of course the individual tournaments will continue to be a focal point and there will be peaks in the programme, but this allows us to have a thread of continuity in between those major programme milestones.”
IMG plans to “weave in” secondary tournaments to licensing activities as well, and will also look to create permanent programmes – particularly in the digital arena – to showcase the World Rugby trademark.
The brand-building ethos fits in with World Rugby’s intention to land more sponsorship deals for the governing body itself and separately from sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup, as chief executive Brett Gosper recently told Sportcal.
IMG is already the exclusive commercial representative of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the first to be held in Asia, and, under the terms of its existing agreement with World Rugby, it represents “all primary commercial rights sales and management functions,” including broadcast, sponsorship marketing, commercial ticketing and licensing.
However, the licensing work with World Rugby until now has solely been performed around the major tournaments, according to Maglione.
He said: “We’ve worked with them in the past on licensing. In France [for the 2007 Rugby World Cup], for instance, we handled it directly.
“The vision was different [then]. It was just to do a licensing and merchandising programme in the tournament host country and it will have a limited life, such as is often the case with tournament programmes.”
Meanwhile, a major focus of IMG’s licensing efforts in rugby will be to help introduce a successful video game, a challenge that Maglione describes as “a nut that has never been cracked in general for the sport of rugby.”
A 2015 Rugby World Cup video game (developed by HB Studios) was launched just two weeks before the tournament kicked off, and Maglione admits it was “hastily put together.”
He underlined: “Technology now permits gameplay that more closely emulates the sport of rugby in a way that makes it more of an interesting commercial proposition than it has been in the past…
“In the area of gaming, we’re looking to develop a more strategic approach, so it would not necessarily be for the 2019 tournament but more a permanent product that has peaks of interest during the tournament.”
He cited the ‘Fifa’ and ‘Madden NFL’ games, both developed by EA Sports, as games whose success he would seek to emulate.
In its licensing remit, IMG is to “target both core category and creative licensees to design, produce and distribute ranges of apparel, fan, lifestyle and leisure products to be sold in the host market and leading international markets.”
The agency will also work on the “development of permanent speciality lines under the World Rugby brand, a Hall of Fame memorabilia programme and electronic and mobile games.”
The appointment comes after World Rugby issued a request for proposals in July last year as part of an overhaul of its licensing programme.
That RFP also included rights to the annual World Rugby Sevens Series, and Maglione is hoping that IMG can have some involvement in a licensing programmes around sevens, namely the Rugby World Cup Sevens.
He said: “I think that going forward it’s quite possible that we’ll get involved in that but it will depend on a tournament-by-tournament basis. It will depend on the agreements which are reached with each host country.”
San Francisco will stage the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
World Rugby said last year that the appointed licensing partner would provide minimum guarantees in addition to offering advice, guidance and management of World Rugby's licensing activities until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
France, Ireland and South Africa are all vying to stage the 2023 showpiece event, with a decision on the award to be made next month.