• A new global study from Nielsen has recorded 877 million followers and 405 million fans of rugby union worldwide in 2019, up 11 per cent and 18 per cent on 2018 figures respectively
  • Unprecedented growth is driven by 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
  • Rugby is highly associated with a host of 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

A comprehensive report published by World Rugby today, exactly one year on from the Rugby World Cup 2019 final, based on results from two global surveys has highlighted the sport’s strong growth in both established and emerging rugby nations during 2019.

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 collected and analysed data from both traditional and emerging rugby nations around the world and the key findings are released today in a white paper entitled “Global Reach of Rugby 2019”.


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 per cent on 2018
  • In 2019, there were an estimated 405 million rugby fans, and 126 million avid fans, marking an 18 per cent and 17 per cent increase since 2018, respectively
  • Women’s rugby is on the rise with interest in established markets up to 45 per cent and in emerging markets to 27 per cent, a 15 per cent and 22 per cent increase since 2018, respectively
  • Across 36 surveyed markets, there were over 140 million female rugby fans in 2019, which marks a 29 per cent increase since 2018
  • There has been a growing global interest in men’s rugby, increasing to 63 per cent in established markets and 30 per cent in emerging markets, a 11 per cent and 15 per cent 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 per cent in 2019.
  • The inspirational impact of RWC 2019 spread across Asia. In India 14 per cent of people are now interested in rugby, a 75 per cent 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 per cent, France was particularly engaged with rugby in 2019, as excitement builds in the country ahead of hosting Rugby World Cup 2023

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “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 said: “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 per cent 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.”

Editors’ Notes

Nielsen’s Annual “Global Reach of Rugby” providing global fan trends and insights was conducted in November 2019. It collected data from 17 nations to obtain an understanding of the current state of global rugby and the progress that World Rugby, unions and the wider rugby family have made in growing the game over the past year.

To compile the data, Nielsen undertook in-depth 30-minute online interviews with participants across 11 established rugby nations and six emerging rugby nations, with 500 nationally representative respondents per country. In addition to the nationally representative samples, a secondary group of 500 rugby followers per country was interviewed.

The research can be compared with data gathered in December 2018 and November 2017.

The “Global Reach of Rugby” is combined with findings from Nielsen SportsDNA, a separate, universal study used by Nielsen globally for every sport, surveying 1,000 nationally representative online respondents between the ages of 16-69 in 36 countries on their interest in rugby union to identify how many people are ‘very interested’, ‘interested’, ‘a little interested’ or ‘not interested at all’ in rugby. In both India and China, the survey sample is 2,000 respondents, representative of the urban online population across the 11 biggest cities in each country.

The population figures used for extrapolations are based on the total population for each country aged 16-69 as this is the population represented by the survey sample.

Nielsen then establish the relationship between those levels of interest in rugby and 10 publicly available statistics for every country (Number of rugby clubs, registered rugby players, male rugby players, female rugby players, total population, urban population, GDP, Facebook users, internet penetration and mobile cellular subscriptions).

The result of this regression analysis is a predictive model which allows them to forecast rugby interest in a further 49 countries where primary research is not available, by building a statistical correspondence between the surveyed 36 countries and the 49 unsurveyed countries, predicting the absolute number of rugby union fans across the total 85 countries globally.

This model has an R² value of 0.96 for ‘Top 2 Box Interest’, meaning it can predict 96 per cent the 36 surveyed data points to within one standard deviation (+/-5%) from the actual ‘Top 2 Box’ score (i.e. the number of people interested or very interested in rugby).

World Rugby can compare annual results for all 85+ countries from studies undertaken by Nielsen in November 2019, May 2018 and May 2017, and annual data for 13 countries going back to May 2013.