Five stats proving why brands should try rugby
Any good investment is about getting in early at a reasonable price before everyone becomes wise and wants a piece of the action. While rugby is certainly already an established global sport with plenty of commercial partners, the opportunity still remains to get in on one of the lower floors as the sport looks on the cusp of a sizeable growth spurt as these five stats testify.
The shareholding that private equity firm CVC Capital Partners now own in Premiership Rugby – the top division of the men’s game in England – after a £200m investment.
Premiership Rugby says CVC has “an impressive track record of helping to grow sports businesses”. CVC is most well known for overseeing the $8bn sale of motor racing’s Formula 1, doubling to tripling the sport’s value during its tenure.
Despite some complaints that CVC made a lot of money to the long term detriment of the sport, its expertise and £200m cash injection will hugely help grow the league’s profile and that of the wider sport.
Crucially, from any sponsor’s perspective, these assets will be used to help market and promote Premiership Rugby, particularly overseas, improve digital content, the infrastructure, facilities and fan experience.
As Ian Ritchie, the league’s chairman said, the investment shows the world that “Premiership Rugby is on the up.”
In addition, it emerged a few weeks ago that CVC also offered £500m to buy 30% of the Six Nations Championship (the second most prestigious international tournament behind the World Cup) and the autumn internationals (in which England play some of the world’s best teams).
From an investment perspective, rugby certainly seems on the up – backed up by Premiership Rugby’s commercial income jumping more than 80% in five years.
The proportion of the UK population that engage with rugby as either players, coaches or spectators.
That’s 23 million people. The figure completely dispels the myth that rugby is the preserve of the upper middle class and higher. Indeed, based on the highest class within the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification system (NS-SEC), rugby only scores 51st out of 67 sports and activities in terms of the percentage of participants from that highest class (35%).
That’s an almost identical percentage to football. (Interesting fact alert: croquet scores highest at 89%).
Rugby is one of the country’s most popular sports across the board, particularly in a family sense (see next two stats), and a genuinely viable vehicle for reaching a huge chunk of the population.
The proportion of regular participants in rugby who are aged 16-24.
This is the second highest concentration among the most popular sports in England, behind only basketball.
In other words, rugby is one of the most efficient vehicles for reaching younger audiences. It’s also extremely popular in schools, partly due to the RFU’s All Schools programme which aims to get 750 state schools involved and create a positive legacy for one million children by the end of the year.
The scheme, which also aims to get children involved with local clubs, has been sponsored by commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE since 2014.
Rugby, like Formula 1, has made it known that targeting younger fans is a key priority so any brands who score highly on that audience are very likely to be attractive to the sport and are, thus, in a strong negotiating position.
The growth in the number of women playing rugby globally in four years.
Women’s rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. HSBC’s Future of Rugby report said that 500,000 new women were picking up the sport annually. Even if this growth were to slow slightly, it would mean that by 2026, 40% of those playing Rugby Union will be women.
Not only is participation on the rise but so too is interest, focus, investment and professionalism. From World Rugby’s eight-year strategic plan to grow investment in the women’s game to more countries looking to replicate England’s RFU in awarding the first full-time female professional contracts earlier this year, now is the time to get involved.
From a brand’s perspective, not only does this offer a huge grass-roots opportunity and possible CSR activation, these investments by the game itself will ultimately develop higher-quality competitions and increase audiences. This will provide a more compelling range of opportunities and benefits at the sport’s highest end.
The proportion of rugby fans in emerging markets who became fans after being inspired by sevens.
Rugby’s traditional game is 15-a-side but sevens is the 7-a-side form of the game with seven-minute halves (rugby’s version of cricket’s 20/20 format).
The growth of sevens is not only propelling the overall interest in rugby but it offers brands the opportunity to reach a different type of audience.
Not only shorter, Sevens is a faster, higher-action and easier to understand version. Thus, the game’s governing body says it can “convert new fans in the digital space, with its made-for social media format resonating with younger casual sports fans in particular, generating record video views and engagement rates.”
Sevens’ inclusion as an Olympic sport in 2016 was another shot in the arm for the sport, exposing it to new fans in new markets all over the world. It is estimated that $100m is being released in funding for the sport globally. Sevens’ other jewel in the crown is the annual Hong Kong tournament, now involving women’s and children’s events alongside the men’s.
Brands should be looking to follow HSBC’s lead. Predicting the upsurge in interest, the bank became the first title sponsor of the sport in 2010 and will continue as such until at least 2023.
Sources: Premiership Rugby, CVC, United Nations, Sport England, World Rugby
Prior to co-founding caytoo, Alex was an Analyst and VP of Global Communications at Nielsen and founded the successful PR/communications consultancy, Meteor.
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