How successful was the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019?
Several media outlets this week have reported on the financial success of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, with the RWC 2019 reaping a record-breaking $4.3 USD billion for the host nation. The success of the Brave Blossoms at the event undoubtedly helped the success and the buy-in from the Japanese public was a notable feather in the cap, but RWC 2019 also attracted 242,000 international visitors.
Why then is there a constant feeling of missed opportunities around Japanese rugby from those involved in the game but outside of the JRFU (Japan Rugby Football Union) circles in Japan?
RWC 2019 Financial Success
Based on a report commissioned by World Rugby and conducted by Ernst and Young, “the tournament in Japan was the most economically successful Rugby World Cup ever, with about 348.2 billion yen generated through spending by international tourists.”
Ernst and Young Report- RWC Japan 2019
The high costs in Japan would have been a big contributor too but all of the stats are overwhelmingly positive:
- Ticket sell-out rate of 99%, more than any previous Rugby World Cup
- Rugby matches were watched by a cumulative worldwide television audience of 857.28 million compared to 678.53m for the 2015 World Cup in England.
- International fans stayed an average of 17 days and spent £286 per night (Compared with 14 days for England 2015 and half the amount of spending)
- RWC-related TV broadcasts drew 857.28 million viewers, up 26 per cent from 2015.
- Videos on social media during RWC 2019 were played 2.04 billion times — six times more than in 2015.
Ticket sales were the only aspect which did not surpass the RWC 2015. In total at RWC 2019 – 1,718,176 tickets were sold which was lower than the England RWC 2015 and from the 2009 RWC in France, the report said.
World Rugby COO and Head of Rugby World Cup Alan Gilpin also discussed what made Rugby World Cup 2019 “so special and the hosting benefit for the host nation”, Japan this week in a video on the RWC website.
Gilpin told Reuters that “It was one of the great, if not the greatest of Rugby World Cups.”
“The revenues from Japan and England before it have meant that we have been in a position to financially support our unions through the global pandemic,” Gilpin also said. We heard recently from ChildFund Pass It Back, that the RWC partnership and windfall has also helped them during the COVID-19 disruptions.
Chris Mastaglio, the Director of ChildFund Pass It Back (PIB) told us “The fundraising element was critical, particularly now. Like everyone else, we are being impacted by COVID-19, the opportunities for fundraising, government grants, all of that has been impacted. I think the revenue that was generated at the RWC has allowed us a little bit of cushioning for this year which has been really good. We have been able to commit to activities we maybe would not have been able to with the financial impact.”
Obviously the governing bodies of World Rugby, Asia Rugby and JRFU prefer to focus on selected positives on the impacts on the Rugby World Cup on Japan and Asia.
Nielsen Sports Report DNA – RWC Japan 2019
- 78 per cent of the general public thought that Rugby World Cup hosting in a so-called “non-traditional” rugby market was positive for the future of the sport.
- 46 per cent of the general public thought Rugby World Cup was the most exciting sporting event of 2019 (70 per cent in Japan), compared to 25 per cent who disagreed, demonstrating the value of hosting to international marketing and national pride.
- The level of Rugby World Cup interest almost doubled from 26 per cent in 2018 to 44 per cent in 2019, representing more than 50 million people.
- Nine out of 10 people in Japan believed that Rugby World Cup hosting captured the imagination, boosting national pride, excitement and engagement.
- Nine out of 10 people in Japan got behind the national team on their run to the quarter-finals, reflecting a 33 per cent increase in ‘niwaka fans’ (unexpected) or new fans during the tournament.
- 83 per cent of people in Japan believe that hosting Rugby World Cup generated a positive legacy for rugby, delivering future major rugby event hosting opportunities for Japan.
- 50 per cent of those in Japan who followed Rugby World Cup had become interested in the sport in the last year, highlighting the significant legacy opportunity for host nations.
- 54 per cent of those in Japan who followed the tournament were doing so for the first time.
- 74 per cent of Japanese who were aware of Rugby World Cup believe that the tournament will encourage more children to play the sport.
What has happened since RWC 2019 in Japan?
For domestic Japanese spectators attending the Rugby World Cup 2019, 40% were “people who had never before watched rugby or rarely watched it” and that 35% “rarely or infrequently attended or watched in the past.”
Japan Rugby Football Union President Shigetaka Mori said the JRFU would continue to work hard to make the sport more popular by capitalizing on the progress built during the event last year and even suggested bidding for another Rugby World Cup in the future.
COVID-19 obviously disrupted all major plans in 2020, but there were already warning signs things are not as bright as it seems.
- The ongoing uncertainty about the status of the Japan Top League professional format (Japanese fans have seen just 6 rounds of top-class domestic rugby in 2 calendar years).
- The dumping of the Sunwolves from Super Rugby.
- Lately, there have also been issues surrounding eligibility and the JRFU needs still discuss foreign-born Japan passport holders and their role in Japanese rugby.
- The JRFU “failed in its bid to control the Higashi Osaka’s famous rugby ground Hanazono Stadium, which is home to the famous Japan annual high school tournament which draws large crowds reported Rugby News Japan.
Rugby will still be allowed to be played at the Hanazono Stadium, but “there are concerns as to what happens in future, especially if FC Osaka start climbing divisions as the 4th tier soccer side FC Osaka now control it.
Rich Freeman, who publishes Japanese rugby news on his Rugby News Japan FB page, is a well-known rugby pundit and analyst in Japan and also writes for Kyodo News.
He also raised the issue of “what happens to the apparent 769,000 children involved in tag rugby in elementary schools in Japan” as the drop-out rate from youths playing rugby in Japan is very high. This is on the back of Japan Rugby Football Union President Shigetaka Mori saying the RWC “will continue to be a catalyst for rugby participation, popularity and profile in Japan.”
Freeman also wrote as fas back as 2005, that “Hosting the RWC should have been the catalyst for change – not a reward.”
Among the frequent posters on the Rugby News FB page, one commenter said:
“For the JRFU, staging RWC 2019 was always the ultimate prize. It was never seen as an ideal tool for reforming the sport in Japan.”
Robert Kitson also wrote in the Guardian newspaper recently about the “Lack of global vision that could lead to the death of rugby in Japan”. The aged JRFU board members and the cultural obstacles in Japan are seen as hindrances to the development of the game.
Brave Blossoms – Japanese National Rugby
The Japanese national rugby teams continue on an upward trajectory. The men’s national 15s team, the Brave Blossoms, are now a tier 1 nation and would have had a number of top-class test matches in 2020 before the global pandemic scuppered the international calendar. The team is also possibly going to play the British and Irish Lions on June 26, 2021, at Murrayfield.
They also already have a guaranteed spot at the RWC 2023 in France based on their performances in 2019.
The Women’s 15s team had a two-test tour to Australia in 2019 and are undeniably one of the top Asian women’s rugby teams. They still need to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand but have a good chance of doing so.
On the 7s rugby front, both the men’s and women’s teams are under greater threats from other rising Asian rugby nations but both will qualify for the Olympics 2020 (now due to be held in 2021) as the host nation, although their status on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is less stable.
Asian Rugby News
- Asia Rugby extends tournament ban until Q4 2020.
- Karina Soerjanatamihardja: Growth of Women’s Rugby in Indonesia.
- Women and Girls Rugby Conference 2020 in HK.
- HKRU: Strategic Research Study findings.