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August 13, 2018 | by  | in Sports |
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Rugby at the Ends of the Earth

Last week, the NBA took their game to South Africa to showcase some of the world’s greatest basketball athletes in front of a packed Pretorian crowd. It was a fantastic spectacle. Fans were treated to global stars in their own backyard. The NBA has made it no secret that they are trying to grow the popularity of the sport, having scheduled games in places such as China, England, Japan, Israel, Brazil, and Mexico. The tour was a huge triumph in its bid to grow the global fan base for the sport.
Having seen the NBA extending their reach, I was inspired to write an article about how World Rugby is taking the sport into the furthest corners of the world in order to grow its global popularity.
Rugby is a complex sport. It boasts as being the only sport in the world that you have to pass backwards in order to go forward. The longest rule book since the Bible is constantly changing, making it difficult to learn quickly. Even now, the biggest rugby fans are often left scratching their heads as to why a referee has blown for a penalty. This may be why only New Zealand, Georgia, and Wales claim rugby as their national sport. However, it seems the sport isn’t slowing down in its attempt for global growth.Yes, we know there are other tier one nations that are formidable opponents when the All Blacks take the field. For example, the Six Nations Tournament, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, and Italy, is arguably the toughest international tournament to win outside of the World Cup. South Africa, Australia, and Argentina joined New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to the former tournament.

Outside of these teams, and overlooking the odd upset, the other 20 teams who complete the world rankings don’t offer a huge amount when they get their chance against the top teams. However, World Rugby is vowing to attend to what have traditionally been smaller market nations. The inclusion of a Japanese team in Super Rugby was just the beginning of a huge investment into the Asian market. Since then, World Rugby gave Japan the 2019 Rugby World Cup to bolster popularity and interest in that region. The hosts have not disappointed; according to World Rugby, Japan are in the top 10 fan-grossing nations in the world with 14 million fans.

But it isn’t just Japan that has shown a huge increase in interest.

World Rugby stats show that other small markets are growing their fan numbers as well. Fan-bases in emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India, and USA have increased by over 50% since 2013. Asia, North America, South America, and Africa have the fastest growing fan bases with 112.5, 52.8, 38.2 and 32.7 million respectively. All this adds to an incredible global fan base increase of 24% in just five years.
World Rugby has also invested a lot of resources into growing the World Sevens format of the game. Recently, the stars of World Sevens took center stage in San Francisco, where over 100,000 fans attended. Research showed that emerging market growth is being driven by the shorter form of the game.

World Rugby is seeing huge success in this field as the high-action, fast paced, and easy to understand game is resonating with the younger, more casual fan. Since the Rio Olympics in 2016, 16.8 million new fans have shown interest, something World Rugby is hugely delighted about. In the same continents highlighted before, there has been a rise of 63% fan interest inspired by the shorter form of the game.
So although rugby may have a long way to go before it attracts the same volume of supporters as football, it is clear that World Rugby is intent on delivering the game to places which have been deprived of it in the past.

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