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Can Rugby Union Boost its Global Appeal in 2023

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Can Rugby Union Boost its Global Appeal in 2023

It’s been a tough couple of years for rugby union. Just like other sports, rugby took a financial hit during the pandemic, with many clubs still struggling to recoup their losses. This is particularly true in England, with Worcester Warriors and Wasps going into administration in 2022.

So, just how could this situation be resolved? And how can rugby union boost its appeal, both at home and on a global scale? We explore the impact of the pandemic and three possible solutions below.

The true impact of the pandemic

It’s an understatement to say that the pandemic resulted in a huge loss of earnings for clubs across the UK. In fact, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) reported £120 million reduction in revenue during 2020/21. While the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed a deficit of €10 million — a figure that’s substantially better than the €36 million loss from 2019/20 but still a cause for concern.

The global view paints a similar picture. World Rugby reported a loss of more than £42 million during 2020, compared to profits of £128 million during 2019. South Africa Rugby, on the other hand, took a very different approach. Although their revenue declined by R580 million, SA Rugby took steps to reduce their expenditure by 45%, which resulted in real losses of R7.9 million in 2020.

Appealing to fans in the UK

According to Statistica data from 2022, rugby is the fourth most popular sport in the UK. A survey of more than 4,000 adults revealed that approximately 25% of Brits follow rugby teams and enjoy watching the sport.

While this may be lower than the 80% who stated football, this is still a large share of the UK sports market. With such an expansive audience, rugby union could do more to appeal to fans and capitalize on its advertising and commercial potential.

Widening the global audience

World Rugby currently has 108 members and 21 associate members. This may sound like a lot, but when we compare these figures to FIFA, the football association is leagues ahead with 211 national associations.

Widening the net and welcoming new members could help rugby union to reach entirely new audiences, boost the popularity of the sport and ultimately, increase revenue on a global scale.

World Rugby’s new approach

World Rugby launched a new strategy in 2021. Titled ‘A Global Sport for All’, the organisation outlined a four-year plan that focused on ‘evolving the game’ and long-term growth. Essentially, it aims to advance international competitions, welcome new participants and increase engagement while also making rugby accessible and enjoyable for all.

This framework could help the sport to develop and expand, raising its global appeal and making rugby union more profitable.

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