In October 2020, an independent report by MI Associates revealed the true value to countries fortunate enough to win hosting rights. Analysis of data showed that men’s Rugby World Cup hosting can generate up to £2.9 billion in total economic impact, while direct visitor expenditure into the host economy can reach £1.1 billion.
In addition to the huge benefits that the host country can enjoy, the financial success of the men’s Rugby World Cup enables World Rugby to invest record sums in the development and growth of the sport from the playground to the podium, ensuring that the sport is accessible and enjoyable for as many people as possible. Between 2020-23, the international federation will invest more than £565 million in the sport.
From its humble beginnings, the men’s Rugby World Cup is now regarded as the third biggest sporting event behind the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games. RWC 2019 was the most economically successful Rugby World Cup ever with nearly £4.3 billion generated in economic impact according to a report by EY.
With regards to women’s Rugby World Cup, the first tournament in Wales in 1991 was run on a shoestring budget with the amount of financial support on offer unrecognisable from that of today. Analysis suggests that hosting a women’s Rugby World Cup can generate £21-29 million in total economic impact.
Women’s rugby is one of the fastest growth trajectories in world sport and has experienced incredible growth in established and emerging markets. As interest in the women’s game grows, more and more stakeholders are keen to become involved in Rugby World Cup.
The gap between the first and next edition of the men’s Rugby World Cup will be 36 years, and in all probability, a world apart in terms of attendances. Demand for tickets is now such that smaller venues like the Concord Oval, scene of one of the greatest Rugby World Cup matches in living memory when France defeated Australia in an epic semi-final at the inaugural tournament, have largely been consigned to history.
Super-sized stadiums are now the norm and when England play Japan at France 2023, for example, you can guarantee that the 34,615-capacity Stade de Nice will be packed to the rafters rather than watched by 5,000 or so curious spectators, as was the case when the teams met at RWC 1987.
France 2023 organisers are aiming to lift the bar even higher than was achieved at the previous tournament in Japan. The first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia broke all manner of records and was the most impactful yet in terms of spectator appeal. This despite the logistical challenges presented by Typhoon Hagibis and the cancellation of three pool matches.
With a record 99.3 per cent attendance across the tournament resulting in 1.84 million tickets sold, in addition to a record 1.13 million people filling the official Fanzones and 242,000 international visitors enjoying the incredible hospitality of the hosts, Rugby World Cup once again took its place at the top table of global sporting events.
Meanwhile, World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont’s feeling that RWC 2017 would be a game-changer for women’s rugby from a popularity perspective was a bold one given the success of the event in France three years earlier, when England lifted the trophy in front of a crowd close to the 20,000 capacity of the Stade Jean Bouin.
But his prediction came to pass with a record 45,412 spectators attending matches in Ireland over the duration of the 17-day long tournament. This figure is all the more impressive given the host nation had a disappointing tournament in finishing eighth.
Some 17,115 spectators packed into Kingspan Stadium in Belfast to see New Zealand beat England 41-32 to win a fifth Rugby World Cup, a few hundred less than the 17,516 who attended the pool stage in Dublin.
With the next Rugby World Cup heading to rugby-mad New Zealand in 2022, organisers will be confident that more records will be broken.
The internet was very much in its infancy and social media was not even a thing when the Rugby World Cup story began in 1987, and it was 2009 before the tournament had its own Twitter account. But the tournament has fully embraced the digital age over time and Rugby World Cup now has more eyes on it than ever before, with one million Twitter followers, nearly three-quarters of a million on Instagram and another 4.55 million on Facebook.
At the men’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, match and non-match video content across World Rugby and Rugby World Cup social platforms delivered more than 2.1 billion views, nearly six times the figure achieved at Rugby World Cup 2015.
With 45 million views across official tournament platforms, and 50,000 new fans joining World Rugby’s social media communities, Rugby World Cup 2017 was also a huge success from this perspective.
Advances in technology have enabled fans to consume sport in many different ways but television audiences still remain an important metric in gauging an event’s popularity.
RWC 2019 in Japan was the most watched rugby event ever with more than 857 million people around the world watching the action via World Rugby's network of rights-holding broadcast partners, an increase of 26 per cent from the previous tournament in England.
Asia’s first Rugby World Cup saw the cumulative live audience grow from 479 million in 2015 to 501 million in 2019 – a five per cent increase – despite the time difference to the traditionally dominant rugby broadcast markets of France and the United Kingdom.
The most watched match on Japanese TV in 2019 was the Brave Blossoms’ unforgettable Pool A encounter with Scotland in Yokohama. A domestic peak record of 54.8 million tuned in to see history being made as the hosts qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time.
South Africa’s triumph over England was the most watched Rugby World Cup final ever with an average live audience of 44.9 million fans. UK rights-holder ITV enjoyed a Saturday morning peak audience of 12.8 million and a 79 per cent audience share, despite the challenging time zone.
Television coverage of women’s Rugby World Cup was sketchy to say the least in its formative years, but fast-forward to 2017 and more than 110 countries received live pictures from Ireland, such was the level of interest. The total coverage of 1,536 hours was 130 per cent more than the previous edition in 2014 and more than nine times that of RWC 2006 in Canada.
More than three million viewers in France tuned in to watch Les Bleues lose to England in the semi-final on the state-owned France 2 channel, while the final between England and New Zealand attracted a peak of 2.65 million viewers on ITV in the UK – the largest single audience for a women’s Rugby World Cup final.
Rugby World Cup is not just a tournament that takes place on the field of play every four years, it also has an important role to play in terms of legacy, both in the host nation and across the region as highlighted by the huge success of the Impact Beyond programme for RWC 2019 in Japan.
Asia Rugby, in conjunction with World Rugby and the Japan Rugby Football Union, set a target of creating one million new participants in the continent across the four-year cycle of the tournament, but the final figure for Project Asia 1 Million far exceeded that aim with 2.25 million.
Twenty-two Asia Rugby member unions were involved in the Impact Beyond programme, with some 63 different projects taking place across the region from 2016 onwards with 43.1 per cent of the new participants being girls or young women.
Japan accounted for 1.18 million of the new participants with 769,000 schoolchildren given the opportunity to experience tag rugby in more than 6,000 elementary schools with more than 14,000 tag teachers trained to enable the sessions to continue.
More than £2 million was also pledged by the rugby family to support ChildFund Pass It Back, the principal charity partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. These donations enabled ChildFund to transform the lives of more than 25,000 vulnerable children in disadvantaged communities across Asia through an integrated life skills and rugby curriculum.
The impact the first women’s tournament had, and the legacy it has left, can be seen in the number of people involved who currently hold influential positions in the game, from administrators to players.
Deborah Griffin, chair of the organising committee, was on the organising committee again when England hosted RWC 2010, and has since sat on the Rugby Football Union Council, England Rugby Board and was one of the first women elected onto the World Rugby Council. Through her work at the RFU, she played an influential role in the introduction of professional contracts for England’s women’s team and the foundation of the Premier 15s competition.
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductees Carol Isherwood, Gill Burns, Liza Burgess and Anna Richards, as well as Giselle Mather, Emma Mitchell, Candi Orsini and Natasha Wong are just a selection of players from the first women’s tournament who have gone on to hold influential roles in coaching or the boardroom — or both.
The increasing profile of women’s Rugby World Cup has been reflected in a growth in both player participation and crowds. On the back of a successful RWC 2017, there was a 28 per cent increase in the global female playing population from the tournament’s end to June 2019, with 2.7 million registered players.
Interest in attending matches has risen no less spectacularly. Playing in their first test since winning a fifth Rugby World Cup in 2017, the Black Ferns beat Australia in front of reported 28,842 spectators in Sydney as part of a double header between the All Blacks and Wallabies.
France have played at home in front of crowds of 10,000 or more for many years, while England set a record for a home ticketed Women’s Six Nations match of 10,974 when they beat Wales 66-7 at the Twickenham Stoop in March 2020.