MasterCard Worldwide, an official partner of the Rugby World Cup 2011 taking place next September in New Zealand, is reaffirming its support of the sport with new research that suggests rugby is growing in popularity and bringing in commerce. In particular, the 2010 RBS Six Nations Championship, which concluded on March 20, produced 465.43 million euros (US$621.2 million) in all forms of payment for the six competing nations, including France, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy, according to the research.

“MasterCard has put its commitment behind Rugby as we believe the sport has incredible ability to engage and connect with fans, many of whom are MasterCard cardholders and partners, across the globe,” says Michael Robichaud, MasterCard vice president of global sponsorships. “This research underscores our belief and demonstrates that rugby, while a significant sport today, continues to advance, develop and inspire more people in existing and new markets around the world.”

For the study, MasterCard commissioned the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University, England, to develop a report that examines the economic impact of the 2010 RBS Six Nations Championship and associated demographic trends. The organization compared the tournament with other major sporting events, with particular reference to analysis of attendance, TV audience, visitor spend and other economic indicators.

“This study provides us with unique insights into this fan base, and includes purchase behaviors and travel patterns around major tournaments,” says Robichaud.

MasterCard supports rugby in a number of ways, including making contests a part of its “Priceless” marketing efforts and providing exclusive deals for MasterCard cardholders.

MasterCard cardholders who apply for Rugby World Cup 2011 tickets with their cards will double their chances to secure tickets to the semifinals and the final. Rugby World Cup’s tournament organizer, Rugby New Zealand 2011, is making the tickets available through a ballot process open to fans who have applied for tickets for the earlier matches, according to MasterCard.

In the United Kingdom, MasterCard is awarding a “Priceless” experience to rugby fans. Through its sponsorship of the 2010 matches for the Barbarians British rugby all-star team, MasterCard is offering cardholders the chance to become the 23rd Barbarians’ squad member for the upcoming MasterCard Trophy match against England on May 30. The winner of the “Be Number 23” promotion will join the Barbarians squad for the entire week before the game, stay in the team hotel, and eat, train and travel with the players. The winner also will sit on the sidelines with the Barbarians during the match.

In the past several years in New Zealand, MasterCard has done a promotion called the MasterCard All Blacks Roadshow. The All Blacks are the national rugby team for New Zealand and a major worldwide contender. The roadshow enables consumers to test their skills in a series of challenges and meet All Blacks players, including MasterCard Rugby ambassadors Richie McCaw and Buck Shelford. Fans have had the chance to get autographs and pictures with the All Blacks players, and MasterCard has given out thousands of MasterCard rugby balls to supporters that showed their MasterCards.

The Rugby World Cup sponsorship is strong for MasterCard because the rugby fan base tends to be more affluent that other sports, such as soccer, and consumers with money will be making the trek to New Zealand in 2011, says Megan Bramlette, managing associate for Auriemma Consulting Group. “There is the added benefit to grow the brand in a market that is receptive,” she says.

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