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Whither Rugby? - The World Cup Factor

By BrianC
August 17 2005

That there is a 'World Cup factor' which impacts crowd numbers both overall and at individual clubs is beyond question. The great difficulty is quantifying it. WCF

In my case I have only been closely monitoring the figures for two seasons. It will take many many more, if I manage to do so, before a picture starts to emerge.

The World Cup factor manifests itself in two principal ways. When the RWC is actually on it depresses crowds somewhat as attention is elsewhere than club rugby and the international stars are not there to draw the crowds into the domestic game. After the RWC, the sport having an increased media profile particularly after England's victory, crowds are boosted.

The devil of course is in the detail. A straightforward look at the first ten rounds of this season compared to the same period in 03/04 shows crowds for the 04/05 season 21% up on the previous gives us a graph like this.

To get a better idea of the impact of the RWC however you have to strip out the other factors which boosted the 04/05 crowds in this period. Once you adjust the numbers to account for the London Double Header, the boost given by Worcester and the impact of ground the figure is a more modest 13%. In the first article of this 'Whither Rugby' series I explained that underlying growth for existing teams was 9%. It can thus be surmised that the negative impact of the RWC during the first part of the 03/04 season was around 4%.

The boost after the RWC is clear to see. Despite the relative shortfall in the early part of the 03/04 season crowds ended 2.2% up on the previous one. The real boost however has been seen in the season just past. What is open to debate however is how much of the 9% underlying growth can be attributed to the RWC and how much to other factors. I would guess about half of it.

Whilst rugby as a whole has benefited from the RWC the gain has been much more apparent at some clubs than others. The two in particular that stand out are Newcastle and Sale. Johnny Wilkinson and to a lesser extent Jason Robinson are the two England stars who, in the aftermath of the RWC could clearly be seen to attract extra thousands to watch their respective club's games.

Other key England RWC players such as Martin Johnson or Laurence Daglallio may well have been able to attract similar increased audiences however given the ground capacity constraints that both Leicester and Wasps suffer this has not been the case.

Stars do put bums on seats, I have no doubt about that. Whilst this can be clearly seen with the players listed above the issue is trying to quantify how may are attracted by the likes of say Mike Catt or Steve Thompson. Their impact on gates is probably somewhere in the low hundreds.

Given how much the RWC has caught the attention of the worldwide rugby supporting fraternity, not to mention the wider public, it is easy to forget just how recently it started. As a worldwide beacon for our sport the value of this tournament cannot be understated.


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