A new study conducted by Nielsen Sports on behalf of World Rugby has found that the number of rugby fans in the six markets surveyed has grown by 16.83 million as a result of the sport’s inclusion in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The impact on fan-engagement of rugby’s return to the Olympic stage for the first time in 92 years, which saw Fiji win their first ever Olympic medal and Australia triumph in the women’s tournament, also saw record numbers in emerging rugby markets.
Of the six core markets surveyed before and after the Games, research showed rugby’s Olympic inclusion increased the reach of the sport in France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and the USA. Support was particularly marked among women and the 18-24 age group, with strong agreement that rugby sevens was great addition to the Olympic Games.
It is estimated that the attraction of new fans, driven by broadcast and social media interaction reaching new audiences, has propelled the total number of rugby fans worldwide to more than 300 million as the sport looks ahead to a first Rugby World Cup in Asia when Japan hosts the 2019 edition.
Key findings of the Nielsen Sports study include:
- Inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympic Games has resulted in the widening of the reach of the sport in France, Japan, UK and the USA, giving World Rugby the opportunity to build the game
- Interest grew in nearly all markets surveyed and resulted in an additional 16.83 million fans of rugby sevens – with the largest growth coming in France, the United Kingdom and the USA. Globally this could be a bigger number
- Compared with other Olympic sports, growth in interest in rugby sevens saw the biggest increase (four per cent) following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
- There was an average 10 per cent increase across all surveyed markets from those who said they planned to follow rugby sevens at the Olympic Games to those who did follow the tournament, with the highest increase coming in Japan (15 per cent increase)
- Thirty-nine per cent of 18-24 year olds in the UK and 36 per cent of 18-24 year olds in France watched rugby sevens at the Olympic Games, while in Japan there was a 16 per cent uplift among 18-24 year olds who thought rugby sevens was an exciting addition to the Games
- Interest in the Rugby World Cup grew in all markets – with the largest growth coming in USA (six per cent) and Japan (five per cent), inferring that rugby sevens’ inclusion in Rio had a positive impact on the 15s game
The Olympic Games was instrumental in changing perceptions of rugby sevens with an increase in the percentage of people seeing the sport as ‘exciting’ and ‘entertaining’ as well as significant uplift in agreement with statements such as ‘was a good fit with the Olympics’, ‘was an exciting addition’ and ‘deserves to be included’ following the event. Overall there were marked increases in all surveyed markets and globally in the appropriateness of rugby sevens’ inclusion, with the biggest rise occurring in Australia (16 per cent).
Rugby sevens social engagement
Rio 2016 was also the most socially-engaged rugby sevens event of all time based on data provided by The Social Partners.
- World Rugby’s social fan-base grew by 670,000 during 2016, while on Twitter and Facebook World Rugby content reached more than 50 million fans with more than 218 million social impressions
- World Rugby Sevens generated more total engagements across social (11.02 million) than all the other surveyed sporting bodies combined
- Younger audiences led engagement with Snapchat delivering four times as many social interactions than the next closest international federation over the six days of competition
- Biggest-ever social footprint for a women’s rugby event with two million engagements on World Rugby platforms and 3.5 million video views
- On the average position across all the engagement and fan size rankings, World Rugby Sevens was the clear leader among sporting bodies
- £360,000 equivalent ad-spend for World Rugby-generated content, greater than any other international federation
Speaking at the World Rugby Conference and Exhibition 2016 in London, World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby’s mission is to grow the global rugby family and these statistics demonstrate that we are inspiring new audiences through engaging and innovative content in existing and new rugby markets.
“As the results of the Nielsen study show, rugby sevens at the Olympic Games was incredibly successful at reaching and converting new audiences, delivering 16.83 million new fans across six markets to the rugby family in just six days. The high-octane and competitive Olympic tournament won the hearts and minds of fans around the world and provides us with an incredible base to build on as we look towards Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”
World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper added: “Fans are very much at the centre of our strategies to grow the game and we are committed to ensuring that as an international federation and a sport, we continue to ensure that we engage, listen and seek opinion to fans in order that the sport continues to be as relevant, attractive and enjoyable as possible for all.
“Added to the Nielsen study, the analysis of World Rugby’s social media engagement during the Olympic Games presents a very positive picture of how the sport is succeeding in reaching out and inspiring new and existing fans through our dynamic online content. We look forward to strengthening reach and engagement through innovation and stronger, more dynamic language capability.”
Jon Stainer Nielsen Sports MD said: “Our research shows that rugby sevens at the Olympic Games was a big hit with consumers, generating appeal with new audiences and positively changing perceptions of the sport. In comparison to other sports surveyed, the six days of competition had a significant impact on women in terms of following and in the appropriateness of rugby sevens’ inclusion. Strong resonance in the USA provides World Rugby with a great platform from which to build upon ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco.”
The statistics further anticipation and excitement ahead of the 2016-17 men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series which kicks off in Dubai on 1-3 December. It is the first series within the new Olympic Games cycle and new stars and stories will emerge on the road to Tokyo 2020.
Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events said: “Rugby sevens is experiencing an unprecedented period of growth and interest as evidenced by the incredible statistics from Rio 2016. Ahead of the Rio Games, HSBC published “The Future of Rugby: An HSBC Report”, which featured a number of predictions about the future of the sport and it is great to see that some of those relating to interest and participation are already coming to fruition. The sport is now entering into a pivotal year, with a unique opportunity to accelerate the growth of the game even further and as a long term supporter of rugby sevens at all levels, HSBC is dedicated to supporting World Rugby in what is the most important world series to-date.”
Nielsen Sports conducted two waves of research on behalf of World Rugby in August 2016 to examine opinions around rugby sevens’ inclusion in the Olympic Games.
This was carried out in six core markets – Australia, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and USA – via an online survey of 1,000 nationally representative respondents in each market per wave.
The objectives of the survey were to track following and opinion of rugby sevens’ inclusion at Rio 2016, including general rugby union and rugby sevens interest and awareness and appropriateness of the rugby sevens appearance at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games