Sports Writer George Wellbelove proposes five ideas to rejuvenate rugby union as it loses popularity worldwide

Written by George Wellbelove
First year undergraduate studying History and aspiring sports journalist.

The popularity of rugby union has been on a slow decline for the past few years. Despite the Rugby World Cup attracting millions of viewers worldwide, the sport’s popularity has decreased considerably. Paired with the collapse of three major English Premiership teams, the sport is in a precarious position. Here I suggest five changes that could get rugby back on track and thriving in many places around the world. 

  1. North versus south matches 

North versus south games have become somewhat of a rarity these days but they are undoubtedly a great way to attract more fans. Over lockdown, a north versus south match was played in New Zealand and provided considerable entertainment. There were many stars of the international game on display and was one of the best matches played over the pandemic. These kinds of exhibition matches can transform the landscape of rugby as fans across nations can display their support for their home towns/cities in the ultimate showdown. Northampton Saints and England backrow Courtney Lawes recently described how ‘all regions could be involved’ whilst talking about the untapped potential of a north versus south rivalry on ‘The Good The Bad and the Rugby’ Podcast. This is certainly a strong way to incorporate more marketing and interaction with the sport and bring more people into the rugby environment. 

  1. 2031 Rugby World Cup in America 

In 2031, the Rugby World Cup is coming to the United States of America for the first time. As the US is a huge nation, there are millions of people that could be introduced to rugby. Along with the continuing growth of Major League Rugby across the Atlantic, the Rugby World Cup will be a spectacle for the ages in eight years time. The United States provides some of the biggest sporting events across the globe, most notably the Super Bowl and NBA Finals. Along with the incredible architecture of many stadiums across the nation, the 2031 Rugby World Cup needs to be marketed excellently to attract as many people as possible in order to grow the sport. 

The United States provides some of the biggest sporting events across the globe

  1. More investment opportunities 

Currently, rugby union is not a great investment choice. This is clearly shown by Wasps, Worcester Warriors and London Irish being forced out of business over unpaid debts and a lack of money. As these three clubs all folded within a year of each other, it shows a significant lack of interest in rugby as a business. As all clubs are obviously run to try and make money each year, rugby needs to create an appealing business model to ensure the future of the game is safe. How clubs do this is down to them but it should be a priority in order to protect the clubs from going into administration. With further investment comes an increase in financial capability and therefore better salaries and facilities in order to keep players in their home countries to develop a strong following nationwide. 

  1. Rugby video game

Currently, the world of rugby union is not represented well within the industry of gaming. Some companies have tried and ultimately failed to create a full working game in which customers can have an enjoyable experience. The gaming industry is a huge opportunity to catch the attention of younger generations as they grow up in a world of increasing technology. For example, the FIFA (Now EA Sports FC) franchise for football captured millions of players worldwide, resulting in exponential levels of exposure for players and the game of football. Rugby union desperately needs a fully functioning game with strong graphics and unrivalled gameplay in order to gain more fans of the sport. Rugby 24 is due to be released in January 2024 but due to the lack of success with previous games, it remains to be seen whether this new game can break the spell or follow its predecessors down a path of unpopularity. 

The gaming industry is a huge opportunity to catch the attention of younger generations

  1. Utilising social media 

Social media is arguably the best way to grow brands and businesses into profitable organisations. However, organisations within rugby union seem to be neglecting this fact, most notably shown by World Rugby’s incessant commitment to blocking any sort of video involving clips of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. This appears to be a backward step in methods to develop the sport and grow rugby communities. Popular Youtuber and rugby analyst, Squidge Rugby, had a Rugby World Cup final review taken down due to his use of Rugby World Cup clips. Four years ago, Squidge Rugby posted a 2019 Rugby World Cup final review that gathered over one million views so it is perplexing to some that the 2023 version was taken down when there is such a large audience to be engaged. Social media has to be used to grow the sport to try and reach all corners of the world. A new stance on the use of social media must be considered otherwise rugby union may fall further down the rankings of the most popular sports globally.

Check out these latest Sport articles here:

The Matera Affair: Is Rugby Doing Enough to Fight Racism?

Eddie Jones pushes for Success in Autumn Internationals

Worcester Warriors Relegated from Premier League