Shane Whelan talks ahead of Rugby World Cup Retrospective

The Rugby World Cup was won by the Springboks after they fought past hosts Japan, Six Nations Champions Wales and All-Black killers England to win the most prestigious prize in international rugby.

The tournament was hosted by Japan, who aren’t typically renowned for their love for rugby, but their national side put on a fantastic display throughout the tournament, beating Ireland and Scotland on route to the quarter-finals.

The rugby was brilliant to watch, with plenty of shocks and brilliant displays, but one of the biggest talking points from a sports industry perspective was understanding the role of digital throughout the competition.

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup Retrospective event at DAZN, we caught up with Shane Whelan, the Digital Manager at Six Nations and British & Irish Lions, to discuss his take on the RWC, his role throughout it and what he thinks about the role of digital going forward.

He started off by giving us insight into his day-to-day role with the Lions by stating very simply: I run all of the digital affairs for the Lions.

“We have a team here in Dublin who work extremely hard across the channel and we also work with a number of agencies – so pretty much worked on the last two tours: 2013 and 2017.

“You can see from each tour as they go by, the difference in terms of digital requirements. Just going back in terms of the sponsorship requirements from 2013 to the last tour, even to the next tour it will be even more crazier.”

With digital requirements constantly increasing, Shane explained how they currently use their digital resources and how they plan to more going forward.

“One thing which is really synonymous with the Lions is the story from behind the scenes,” he said.

“Using digital, you can give people a sense, particularly when the tour is far away, of what goes on behind the scenes when there are four countries essentially coming together. You are able to demonstrate the bond between the players and the experience.

“Obviously, the video sides of things are massive; exploring the opportunities around gaming, we have seen in terms of the six nations, the fantasy game, how popular that was and to be able to find things that are of equal measure that would be able to, not only serve our commercial departments, but to be really strong fan engagement tool.

“In terms of social across the board, the Lions has such a dedicated and loyal following, of course we want to continue to service them but also mindful of the new younger audience and we are using new channels such as Tik-Tok, things like that to be able to tell them the story of the tour in a more relevant fashion to them.”

Digital’s role is clearly crucial, and despite not being directly involved in the tournament, Six Nations and Lions made an effort so use social media to cover the event for the Six Nations teams as well.

“Across both we Six Nations & Lions we firstly get behind our teams, but also we also believe in a strong digital following and I think it would have been remiss to not be covering the exploits of our six teams in the Six Nations and our four teams in the Lions.

“Also, it is just to celebrate rugby. It is a small community and those other rugby bodies will be covering our events when it comes to the Six-Nations and the Lions. I think it is important, we have seen with some of the numbers across the Six-Nations and Lions, particularly on social, they are very strong, people just want to talk about rugby and maybe when it is specific or their own nations they can get behind it.

We were always intending on covering it to a fairly strong degree and hopefully that came across, but the results were quite strong actually.

I would say any kind of post-match chat around performances etc, the lead up content in terms of getting behind the teams, but also isolating and selecting good images of things that represent rugby, such as great moments in the game all did very, very well; we were quite pleased with the results actually.”

But how can the RWC in Japan have a more global impact for the sport going forward?

“The first one I would say is, the teams like Japan who have done very, very well can provide a surge of interest in their country and a surge of interest in the following of the sport elsewhere. You would hope the likes of the Lions and Six-Nations would benefit from this and that’s, I think, is a really positive impact.

“I would have to say well done to the guys at World Rugby in terms of the content etc that they produced, and it was very interesting to see some of the work and some of the responses to it as well. I think the example of the camera worker with Canon was quite good and got some really good reactions.

“One of our key aims is to try and be not just looking in the view of the Four-Nations and the Six-Nations, but to be looking more globally, and the more teams doing well in Rugby, well that’s good news for us.

“I think some of the work World Rugby did across social and across various platforms is very good and that also helps us all in terms of what we were planning to do as well, and I think there are great opportunities to gain from it.

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