RWC 2019: Great for Japan, but what does it mean for the rest of Asia?

Karne Hesketh of Japan scores the winning try during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

  • With kick-off times optimised for Asian fans, will there be an “f-factor” from friends, family, followers and fans for rugby?
  • An economic impact study estimated a total tournament output of around $3.6bn (€3.2bn) for Japan
  • It remains to be seen if the rest of Asia can share the riches, and maintain interest in the sport after the World Cup ends

According to a report from Nielsen Sports in August 2018, there were 112 million rugby fans (a fan is defined as a person who says they are ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in the sport) in Asia.

Those numbers are among the reasons why, in July, beIN Sports Asia Pacific picked up World Cup broadcasting rights for Cambodia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Singapore.

BeIN are going big on the competition. All 48 matches will be available on a dedicated channel – beIN Sports Rugby – which will support live coverage with analysis, highlights and special features.

According to Mike Kerr, the broadcaster’s chief executive, the competition could kick start the sport in the region and the company’s investment is putting corporate money to back that hunch.

“The Rugby World Cup is our first major rugby acquisition for Asia, but we have been investing in rugby content globally,” Kerr tells SportsBusiness Asia.

“The World Cup is coming at the perfect time. It will be a game-changer for the sport, and we will be looking to expand our rugby offering in future to fuel the appetite of under-served fans in Asia.”

Karne Hesketh of Japan scores the winning try during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

For the Singapore Rugby Union too, the World Cup represents a moment of maximum opportunity to promote the sport and build on relatively small year-on-year participant growth.

“Having the World Cup in what is almost the same time zone will see a lot more Singapore fans engaged in the tournament, It will give the sport a lot of visibility here and it will just get a lot more people interested,” says Douglas Danapal, chief commercial officer.

Japan famously defeated powerhouse South Africa at the 2015 edition and similar results this time would help the cause. “If Japan do well that can’t hurt as it will help make it a more successful and exciting tournament which is what we all want to see,” he adds.

Singapore has a special connection with this Japan team. The city state shared hosting duties with Tokyo for The Sunwolves, Japan’s Super Rugby representative, which met top teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia on a regular basis. The team will fold next year.

“We’ve had a long relationship with Japan that we have built over the years,” said Danapal. “We had the Sunwolves for the past four years. This helped Japan build a high-level competition for their players and this helped our programs and helped us to get our community to understand that you have to pay to watch top level rugby.”

An economic impact study undertaken earlier this year estimated that there could be a total tournament output of around $3.6bn (€3.2bn). It remains to be seen if the rest of Asia can share the riches with the tournament. “There is no direct revenue boost but indirectly there could be with fund-raising events and partnerships with global rugby partners. We can also take advantage of teams and personalities passing through en route to Japan,” Danapal said.

BeIN Sports are looking forward to the 2019 edition breaking viewing records for the Rugby World Cup.

“With kick-off times optimized for Asian fans, we are anticipating this to be the most-watched Rugby World Cup in the region,” said Kerr. “Also, since Japan is only a few hours away, Asian attendees will form a large part of the crowd at RWC 2019. As such, the influence of the ‘f-factor’ – friends, family, followers and fans – will unlock growth for rugby like never before.

“We are in the business of sports, and we are continuously looking to expand our offering. We believe there are gaps in sports content offering here and rugby is one sport that deserves wider coverage. Through our extensive distribution on different platforms we believe we are optimized to help rights owners increase their fanbase.”

Naturally the broadcaster hopes that the money will follow on the heels of the impact created by the World Cup. There are a number of plans to make the most of the tournament with marketing activities that include consumer flyaway contests, on-ground live screening parties, partnerships with affinity groups and more.

“While rugby is not at the level of football in Asia, we take a long-term view on expansion,” said Kerr.

Fiji celebrate after winning the final against France on day three of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens at the Hong Kong Stadium on April 07, 2019 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As well as growing fanbases there has been a push to use the World Cup to increase the player pool in the region, something vital to improving standards and increasing the chances of other Asian nations qualifying for the Rugby World Cup.

“The Rugby World Cup being based in Japan has opened people’s eyes to the opportunity Asia has to offer with its huge population,” Asia Rugby president Aga Hussain tells SportBusiness.

“Our ‘Asia 1 Million’ programmed surpassed its target goal on new players introduced to the game in just three years our Partnership,” he says.

“With a year-on-year multiplying fan base and the existence of established (rugby-related) CSR initiatives, there is enormous potential for any investor. Asia has six per cent of the world’s youth.”

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