Rugby World Cup and Under Armour – What do you do when your brand ambassador is injured?
England take on Wales in the Rugby World Cup this weekend – but Leigh Halfpenny, one of the Welsh superstars and Under Armour brand ambassador, misses out. So what does that mean for the sportswear brand? Jonathan Collin, of Dentsu Aegis Network Sport & Entertainment, says all is not lost…
In February this year American sportswear giant, Under Amour released content starring Toulon and Welsh international Leigh Halfpenny.
The Under Armour brand ambassador speaks of his ambitions as a professional rugby player:
'To take a match winning kick to win the World Cup for your country, I couldn't think of a better situation.'
Fast forward six months, and with two weeks to go before the Rugby World Cup kicks off, Wales are playing Italy in a friendly at the Millennium Stadium. In the last 10 minutes of the 80, Leigh Halfpenny falls awkwardly and his World Cup dream is over.
With 508 points in 62 appearances for Wales and as arguably one of the best kickers in the tournament, Leigh Halfpenny will spend the next six months nursing a ruptured anterior cruciate wondering what might have been.
All eyes are on the world's biggest rugby competition - official sponsors and non-official sponsors alike will have been planning their Rugby World Cup strategies carefully. For Under Amour, a brand that has exploded onto the scene in the UK with a strong rugby focus, its main activity for this year centres on rugby ambassadors and using them in the brand's #EarnYourArmour campaign, of which Halfpenny is a central part.
Getting injured at such a late stage is a big disappointment for the brand, especially when the world is watching - but Under Armour won't be wallowing in this for too long.
They have a safety net in the fact that not all their eggs were placed in the Halfpenny basket but spread across multiple ambassadors including Jamie Roberts, James Haskell, Ireland's Jordi Murphy, Australia's Drew Mitchell and Canadian Jamie Cudmore.
I wouldn't be surprised if the brand sees this as a positive in the short term – they will unlock access to Halfpenny during the World Cup for appearances and PR and in the long term this unfortunate sequence of events may play into their hands under the brands wider strategy of sponsoring the underdogs and overcoming adversity.
Investing heavily in brand ambassadors will never be a risk free exercise in sports marketing and the same applies with music artists and celebrities. Injuries, doping, scandal, you name it. Some are easier to negate risk when contracting with an ambassador but some are out of both the talent's and brand's control as demonstrated with the Halfpenny injury.
What Under Armour have demonstrated is how key a backup plan is, especially when not an official sponsor at a major tournament. They are sponsors of the Welsh team and have already made a splash in the Thames, with a giant image of their ambassadors plastered across eight shipping containers on a 30m boat travelling down the river to Twickenham.
Even if Wales fail to beat England this weekend, the brand's rugby campaign is still unlikely to fall by the wayside; it will still get stand out, still deliver a strong brand message and who knows, may even play into the hands of Under Armour in the long run.