4 reasons why this year’s Rugby World Cup is a great opportunity for brands

Rugby. A sport invented within an English boarding school — called Rugby. In a town — called Rugby. For centuries, this environment has largely been where the sport has remained. A thug’s game, played by gentlemen. It may surprise some, that it’s only within the last few decades that the sport has emerged from the domestic playing field into a game that is truly global. This year’s Rugby World Cup, kicking off on 20th September, is set to be the biggest ever, with a reported 800 million households watching worldwide. This global growth is signified by the fact that this will be the first ever Rugby World Cup held in Asia and in a country where Rugby is still looking for its ‘big-bang’ moment: Japan. Referred to as the “Galapagos” market for its reputation of having a unique socio-economic culture, this Japanese Rugby World Cup is a brilliant opportunity for brands to reach a new audience; both in the land of the rising sun, and across the globe. Here’s why:

  1. The values of rugby are a great fit for many brands.
    In England, the Rugby Football Union states the values of Rugby are teamworkrespectenjoymentdiscipline and sportsmanship. These principles align well with many traditional businesses; in Japan the game is virtually under the sole ownership of corporates. They use rugby to create teams who can showcase their own values. It’s a brand-building exercise. Teams like the Suntory Sungoliaths and the Canon Eagles are household names in Japanese rugby. In the West, Jaguar Land Rover is a good example, celebrating how the game is played around the world. “Our shared values means that no brand understands the spirit of rugby like Land Rover”, the company states on its website.
  2. The size and scale of this Rugby World Cup creates a sweet spot for brands.
    Other international sporting events such as the Olympics and the Football World Cup have more viewers than rugby, but this brings increased competition for attention. In the Rio Olympics, NBC earned a reported $1.2 billion in ad sales revenue over the event, and the cost of the most expensive TV spot during the 2014 Football World Cup final was $1.18 million. The Rugby World Cup is far smaller of course but this brings a unique opportunity. With over 800 million households watching world-wide there is still a large global audience to reach. And by comparison to other global sporting events it will be the right size to generate a higher share-of-voice, especially for brands with smaller budgets.
  3. Grass-roots initiatives offer brands the ability to benefit communities long-term.
    Although the union was established in 1926 and has experienced periods of popularity in the country, the game has largely been played by the more affluent in Japan, starting within universities and then embraced by large Japanese companies. There is a lack of support to enable larger numbers of people to participate in Japan, especially among less affluent, younger, and female groups. This is a similar story to the development of Women’s Football before this year’s World Cup. In the 1900s, crowds of over 50,000 went to women’s games in England, but until its resurgence women’s teams struggled to find pitches to play on. Now, 42% of people will actively inform themselves about a brand involved with women’s football and 69% of people believe the Women’s game deserves the same profile as the men’s. The same story can be remade for Rugby in Japan, and brands can play a key part.
  4. Rugby fans spend more than football fans and will engage around the clock.
    Brands have an opportunity to connect to an affluent audience primed to party. It’s reported that Rugby fans in the UK spend £210 more per-head per-year on FMCG products than Football fans. The RWC offers brands the opportunity to connect to this audience twenty-four-seven, across offline and online channels, traditional and new media. These growth opportunities aren’t limited to within the Japanese heartlands either but are worldwide, with 40% of the competition’s audience coming from outside of Japan. 79% of audiences in the UK will watch the games live, but in the same breath, the Rugby World Cup app will also geo-target to deliver content that is relevant for audiences around the world.


The game may have historically been a thug’s game played by gentlemen, but its values are being embraced by an ever-growing audience, giving brands a huge opportunity to grow alongside.

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