Published as the Rugby World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour visits India where there are 25.7 million fans of rugby, the research undertaken by Nielsen Sports paints a picture of a vibrant, growing sport that is increasingly broadening its global appeal.

  • Global fanbase increase of 24 per cent since 2013
  • Major global markets showing strong growth
  • Asia, North America, South America and Africa growing rapidly
  • Short-form content effective in attracting new fans
  • Average fan age decreasing and female fan-share increasing

Rugby is experiencing strong global participation growth with 9.1 million men, women and children (registered and casual participants) regularly playing the game, with growth driven by emerging rugby markets of large populations.

The research, undertaken across 88 markets, reflects participation trends, with significant increases in rugby interest driven by emerging markets since rugby’s Olympic Games inclusion:

  • 793 million people follow rugby globally, while 338 million consider themselves as fans – an increase of 24 per cent since 2013
  • The fanbase in emerging markets (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and USA) has increased by more than 50 per cent 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
  • Of the 338 million fans, China and USA have 33 million fans, India 25 million fans and France 20 million fans, while RWC 2019 hosts Japan are in the top 10 fan-grossing nations with 14 million

With the stars of sevens having shone brightly at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco where over 100,000 fans attended, the research also shows that emerging market fan growth has been driven by the impact and accessibility of the shorter form of the game, including rugby sevens, whose Olympic Games debut at Rio 2016 delivered 16.8 million new fans across six markets researched immediately after the Games.

Sevens is also a format that World Rugby successfully employs to convert new fans in the digital space, with its high-action, short, easy-to-understand, made for social media format resonating with younger casual sports fans in particular, generating record video views an engagement rates.

Other highlights include:

  • The average age of a rugby fan is 36, this has fallen by two years since 2013, while the sport is increasingly attracting a younger audience in emerging rugby markets
  • 36 per cent of rugby fans globally are women or girls. In emerging markets, the corresponding figure is 34 per cent
  • USA, China, India, Mexico, Brazil and Japan in top 10 fan nations
  • Rugby Sevens interest has increased by six per cent since its Olympic Games debut at Rio 2016
  • Across key emerging markets in Asia, North America, South America and Africa, 63 per cent of rugby fans became fans after being inspired by shorter forms of the game
  • Participants highlight rugby’s values, fun and health benefits as major attractions to playing

The research reflects World Rugby’s strategic plan to ensure that the sport grows by attracting new audiences, whilst remaining relevant to existing fans by providing invaluable qualitative and quantitative data to shape fan-engagement strategies and benchmark performance via growth and perception trends.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "World Rugby welcomes this study, which paints a picture of a sport that continues to attract new and younger fans globally. The information will aid our strategic decision-making, assisting World Rugby, our regions and unions in ensuring attractiveness of the game and shaping future fan-engagement programmes."

Speaking from India during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour, World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper added: “World Rugby is committed to ensuring a thriving, growing, inclusive game that is accessible to all and this research, which demonstrates significant fan-growth, reflects a sport that is effective in attracting a new, younger audience in non-traditional rugby nations, despite huge competition for eyeballs and attention.

“The research also demonstrates that rugby has significant growth potential in both traditional and non-traditional markets and is increasingly attracting a younger audience. We will use the insight to guide our decision-making and approach to growing fans and participants in rugby globally."

The main motivators for sports fans who are not currently interested in rugby to become fans include making it an easier sport to understand and access to international matches. These are areas that World Rugby and its unions continually review and address through the federation’s Council and Executive Committee.

Study methodlogy: The research undertaken in November 2017 via Nielsen Sports across a sample of the population in 36 nations. The following question was asked "How interested are you in rugby union?" using the following categories: very interested, interested, a little interested and not interested at all. Very interested and interested respondents were categorised as fans and the first two categories plus a little interested categorised as rugby followers. Advanced statistical techniques were used to forecast the number of rugby fans in a further 52 countries, giving a total of 88 nations.