Five Fabulous Sporting PR Stunts

By Jane Ainsworth on 15th June 2022

With anticipation mounting ahead of the Commonwealth Games in our hometown of Birmingham, we’re getting excited about all things sports related at WPR this summer.

From the Olympics and the World Cup to the Euros and Wimbledon, sporting events are often highlights in our collective national calendar. Whether we’re supporting, celebrating or commiserating, they bring people together in a shared experience and create lasting memories.

It’s therefore no surprise that marketers and brands look for ways to get involved. In this WPR Reading Room blog, managing director Jane Ainsworth offers a quick round-up of a few of our favourite sporting PR stunts.

1. Subway and Euros Stadium

The pandemic brought about a worldwide pause in live sporting events and left lots of fans disappointed when, even as events returned, reduced-capacity crowds meant cancelled tickets for many. Spotting the potential, Subway ran a competition to take the stadium experience to the fans. One lucky winning family received a visit from footie commentary legend Chris Kamara and had a DIY stadium – complete with two-metre screen and AstroTurf pitch – installed in their back garden courtesy of Subway in 2021. Building on the brand’s #TimeForASub campaign, which saw Subway roll out a variety of themed offerings, it was a classic example of a simple idea executed really well, which connected with the brand’s audience in an engaging way.

2. Greene King and Scrum-ber Party

We’ve run quite a few of our own sports-related campaigns over the years so can’t resist including one on this list. With the 2019 Rugby World Cup approaching, UK fans were wondering how to make the most of watching matches that were being screened at breakfast time to account for the time difference between GMT and Japan, where the tournament was taking place. We came up with a way to help rugby fans live the dream, converting a pub into a comfy dorm so they could sleep over in their local to make sure they wouldn’t miss a minute. The quirky angle was picked up by national and regional press and resulted in almost one million video views.

3. Vanarama and Hollywood Comes to Wrexham

In a brilliant example of how the simplest of ideas can sometimes strike the perfect tone, an impressive Hollywood-style sign appeared overnight on the side of a slag heap outside Wrexham. Timed to coincide with a visit by Wrexham football club owners (and US film stars) Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, speculation abounded on news outlets, social media and in the local area about who was responsible for the sign. Ahead of the start of the season, Vanarama, title sponsor of the National League, revealed it was behind the installation. The campaign successfully brought attention to the lower leagues of the beautiful game in a humorous stunt that really captured imaginations.

4. Paddy Power and ‘Official Sponsor’ Billboard

It’s inevitable that, if we’re talking about PR sporting stunts, we’re going to be spoilt for choice from the PR gods that are Paddy Power. In the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012, there was much discussion among marketers and advertisers about the extremely rigorous Olympics branding rules. Never ones to shy away from a contentious issue, Paddy Power posted billboard advertising at major London railway stations featuring the claim that the brand was sponsoring “the largest athletics event in London this year”, along with the proviso that they were talking about London, France (a small agricultural village in Burgundy, in case you were wondering). In response to a warning from the London Olympics organising committee, Paddy Power threatened legal action and the billboard stayed up, grabbing plenty of column inches and attention along the way.

5. Airbnb and #NightAt the Rio Olympics

Airbnb’s #NightAt campaign has expanded to promote a variety of unique experiences. But it began at the Rio Olympics, when they ran a competition for guests to win a stay inside the Rio gymnastics arena in the build-up to the event. Billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live the Olympic dream, the lucky winners would sleep in a gold medal-inspired bedroom, be ‘hosted’ by Brazilian gymnasts, tour the arena and attend the gymnastics qualifier. Yes, they were official suppliers of ‘alternative accommodation’ for the Games, but it was a nicely judged idea that played to the brand’s messaging and built the sense of anticipation and excitement that always surrounds the preparation of these major sporting events.

As long as people love playing, watching and cheering on their favourite teams and athletes, marketers will find ways to connect their brands to the raft of emotional and celebratory experiences that surround it. Here’s to a summer of memorable sporting moments in Birmingham.

The author: Jane Ainsworth is managing director of WPR. She has more than 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering communications strategies for consumer brands including Dunelm, Tesco, Mothercare, Greene King, John Lewis, Bullring, Beaverbrooks and Westfield.