Worldwide partner of the Rugby World Cup 2019, Mastercard is celebrating the inclusive spirit and innovation that makes rugby a uniting force for fans and players around the world.

“Connecting with people through their passions is at the heart of how we bring Priceless to life all over the world,” says Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard chief marketing and communications officer. “Sports have been an important part of that journey, and by using technology to enhance the experience for fans at the game, fans at home and players alike is how we are building emotional and culturally-relevant connections.”

With a recognition of the impact technology has on the fan experience, Mastercard today unveiled new changes to Player of the Match award. New for 2019, the Mastercard Player of the Match trophy blends Japanese heritage with cutting-edge technology, celebrating the first-ever Rugby World Cup in Asia.

The hardware features a sculptural origami design, inspired by the work of Professor Jun Mitani, and will be finished live on the ground with in-the-moment laser etching reflecting highlights from the match. Monitoring fan activity on social media through a bespoke API – combined with commentary from the official worldfeed RWC 2019 – Mastercard will select the top moments of each match to be immortalized on the trophy.

This storymaking approach enables players to take home a first-of-its-kind, truly priceless account of the match, so they can re-live moments of passion, excitement and sporting greatness.

In a recent survey of sports fans, several impacts of technology were highlighted as improving the overall experience, both in-stadium and at home. Video replay came out as a fan favorite, with over 65% of South African respondents saying it was significantly improving sport.

South African rugby legend Bryan Habana agrees that “referring certain on field instances to the” TMO (Television Match Official) “has been crucial in making important, game changing decisions. We are seeing more of the correct decisions being made when instances of TMO involvement is introduced.”

Technology has also played a role in how fans stay connected to the sport. Over (55%) of local respondents say social media and technology make them feel more connected to their favourite team, game and overall experience. South Africans are also united in their favorite motivational emoji, with 30% preferring to use the “cheers” emoji when tweeting about sport.

More than 50% of South African respondents will be watching the Rugby World Cup 2019 on television at home, while 14% say they will watch it live at a fanpark, restaurant or bar.

When asked why they like to watch rugby, over half (58%) of South Africans said they enjoy that it displays “equal parts physical and mental strength”, while 42% said it is the celebratory rituals and traditions that surround the game. These rituals include watching the game with friends and family while enjoying a traditional braai.

Seventy two percent of South African fans cited ex-South African Captain Francois Pienaar accepting the Rugby World Cup trophy from former president Nelson Mandela in 1995 as the greatest display of sportsmanship in rugby history. This was followed by the time Japan beat South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2015 and South African fans created a guard of honour, insisting Japanese fans got off the train first and cheering them as they did.

In addition to Dan Carter and Bryan Habana, Mastercard is working with Joy Neville, Michael Leitch and Akihito Yamada as global ambassadors for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan to bring fans closer to the games and sport they love.

This year, Mastercard will host its first-ever Priceless Surprise Twitter thread, a priceless chain of unexpected moments in unexpected places with unsuspecting people during the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2019. Fans can be a part of the experience by following Mastercard global ambassadors @DanCarter and @BryanHabana, @mastercard and #PricelessSurprise on Twitter.