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Report shows global rise in rugby interest through 2019

Report shows global rise in rugby interest through 2019
November 9, 2020

A new global study from Nielsen has recorded 877 million followers and 405 million fans of rugby union worldwide in 2019, up 11% and 18% on 2018 figures respectively.

Published by World Rugby one year on from the Rugby World Cup 2019 final, the findings are based on global surveys that highlight the sport’s strong growth in both established and emerging rugby nations during 2019.

The growth has been driven by an uplift in women’s interest and participation in the sport along with surging enthusiasm in rugby’s emerging nations.

Rugby World Cup 2019, the first held in Asia, broke fan engagement records and boosted rugby’s profile across the continent with the sport being associated with positive values such as teamwork, discipline and fair play.

Player safety perceptions improved, with 15 out of 17 markets surveyed agreeing that rugby is safer now than five years ago.

In a game-changing year for the sport, there was a significant increase in the perceived attractiveness of the sport resulting in a sharp increase in interest, inspired by the rise of women in rugby and a trail-blazing Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

Conducted by global measurement and data analytics industry leaders Nielsen, the studies in the Global Reach of Rugby 2019 white paper collected and analysed data from both traditional and emerging rugby nations around the world.

Global Reach of Rugby 2019 - key findings:

• Interest in rugby is growing significantly across the world. There were 877 million rugby followers in 2019 which represents an increase of 11% on 2018
• In 2019, there were an estimated 405 million rugby fans, and 126 million avid fans, marking an 18% and 17% increase since 2018, respectively
• Women’s rugby is on the rise with interest in established markets up to 45% and in emerging markets to 27%, a 15% and 22% increase since 2018, respectively
• Across 36 surveyed markets, there were over 140 million female rugby fans in 2019, which marks a 29% increase since 2018
• There has been a growing global interest in men’s rugby, increasing to 63% in established markets and 30% in emerging markets, a 11% and 15% uplift compared to 2018, respectively.
• Rugby is associated with a host of positive values and two thirds of followers in established markets agree that the sport sets a positive example
• Following Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, rugby interest is soaring in the country, with the number of avid fans quadrupling, and the number of fans increasing by 138% in 2019.
• The inspirational impact of RWC 2019 spread across Asia. In India 14% of people are now interested in rugby, a 75% growth since 2018, and Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam featured in the top 20 for Rugby World Cup 2019 TV figures globally
• The number of rugby fans across the surveyed emerging nations has almost doubled since 2013, up to 168 million, with Brazil and India showing the most impressive levels of growth
• With the number of followers of the sport rising to 65%, France was particularly engaged with rugby in 2019, as excitement builds in the country ahead of hosting Rugby World Cup 2023

Commenting on the findings, World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont stated “the results of this global Nielsen research demonstrate that 2019 was a fantastic year for our sport, exemplified by a historic and spectacular Rugby World Cup and growing interest around the globe, with significant strides forward in the women’s game and amongst emerging nations.

“We have seen a phenomenal growth in interest, particularly in Japan and across Asia, and we are working closely together with our unions, partners and other stakeholders to build on that momentum to continue the strong development of our sport with progressive and sustainable change as we all adapt to the ‘new normal’ in global sport.

“While acknowledging that the results presented in this document were compiled before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the positive insights of this research give us reason for great optimism as we focus on the collective drive to return to the international rugby field in a safe, secure and stronger environment.”

Spencer Nolan, Nielsen Sports & Entertainment Managing Director for UK & Ireland, added “2019 was certainly a successful year for rugby, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia. Following the tournament, across 85 countries, we saw the number of rugby fans (those either interested or very interested) increase by 18% from 344 million in 2018 to 405 million in 2019. This is an incredible growth of over 60 million fans from one year to another.

“When compared against other major global sports including football, basketball, tennis, motorsport and golf, rugby union was the top performer in 2019 in terms of fan growth.”

Middle image show the Webb-Ellis Trophy on its pre 2019 Rugby World Cup Asian tour.

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