Any sport will do well to replicate the extraordinary TV viewing figures of the Super Bowl, which is routinely enjoyed by more than 100 million people each year in the United States alone.
Other sports and competitions have relatively modest ambitions, and one event experiencing greater-than-expected viewership figures is the Rugby World Cup…
Small Screen, Big Entertainment
For the most part, the pool stage of the World Cup went as expected.
So, today’s Rugby World Cup odds are reminiscent of those offered before the tournament had even begun, with reigning champions South Africa (+300) amongst the favorites for the trophy alongside France (+330) and New Zealand (+330). However, a surprise new protagonist has emerged.
At +300, Ireland are now expected to go all the way on French soil, while the rugby betting odds reveal their talisman, Johnny Sexton, as the new favorite in the Top Pointscorer category alongside home hero Thomas Ramos.
🗣️”It felt like a home fixture to us”
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) September 23, 2023
There have been famous victories for the likes of Fiji and Uruguay along the way – their geographic and cultural difference highlighting just how global the Rugby World Cup is with its expanded format, which has allowed nations like Namibia, Romania, and Georgia, not necessarily known as sporting powerhouses, to have their chance to shine on the big stage.
That is perhaps what makes this tournament so captivating, and the TV viewing figures suggest that more casual and ‘fair weather’ rugby fans, as well as those that have perhaps never even watched a game before, are tuning in for the latest round of action.
Scrum Down on the Sofa
The facts and figures suggest that this could be the most-watched edition of the Rugby World Cup in the competition’s long and storied history.
Around 17 million tuned in for the opening game of the tournament between France and New Zealand – only one match in RWC history, the 2011 final between the same teams, has enjoyed a higher viewing figure.
France 27-13 New Zealand: Hosts record impressive opening World Cup win over three-time champions https://t.co/SXb9Qz6jBy
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) September 8, 2023
Considerable numbers have also been recorded in Japan, where 13.8 million tuned in to watch their heroes defeat Chile, while in the Republic of Ireland, the exploits of Sexton and co against South Africa drew an audience of 1.4 million – the highest figure for any TV show in 2023 on the RTE channel.
The question now for the sport’s governing bodies is how can they turn that captive audience into participation? Despite enjoying increasing popularity in North America and other countries, rugby is – on the whole – a sport in decline at the grassroots level.
In England, typically a hotbed of rugby, the number of active players fell from 259,000 in 2016 to 133,000 in 2021 – effectively halving the sport’s participation levels. The brighter news is that this has since improved to 196,000 in 2022, with global rugby up 11% in 2023.
So there’s still work to be done to restore the sport to its former glory, but one thing that is for sure is that there’s an incredible appetite for the Rugby World Cup amongst those watching on from their sofas.