According to a research by Nielsen, there are about 25.7 million rugby fans in India – the third largest after the United States and China – one of the many reasons why World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper believes that the country can certainly host a Rugby World Cup one day. The sport has witnessed massive growth – both in India and across the globe with over 2 million fans expected to attend the next edition of the tournament across 12 cities in Japan, next year.
A Trophy Tour is currently underway to promote the tournament and engage and excite new and existing rugby fans in the lead up to Japan 2019. As part of the tour, the Webb Ellis Cup was unveiled by Sports Minister of India, Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in Delhi on Monday in the presence of World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper; Asia Rugby President, Aga Hussain and Rugby India President, Numazar Mehta at an event hosted by actor and former rugby player Rahul Bose.
“Rugby has roots and history in India and we are seeing a growing interest in the game across the nation. I am sure that the Trophy Tour will create further interest among the next generation of rugby players and fans in India as we prepare for the first Rugby World Cup in Asia at Japan 2019. I wish World Rugby and Rugby India the best for their endeavours,” Rathore said.
In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com on the sidelines of the event, Brett Gosper talked about the tournament’s potential impact on the economy of Japan, World Rugby’s plan to tap the potential in Asian markets and future of the sport in India.
Edited excerpts from the conversation –
How is India treating you?
It’s been fascinating. I have spent a lot of time with Indian Rugby Union and also with Asia Rugby – talking about opportunities here. We are very excited about the growth already in this market and the potential there is for Rugby to grow here, both in terms of participation and fan base.
This is the first time Rugby World Cup coming is coming to Asia. What inspired this move?
If you are a World Cup then, at some point have to be brave enough to take a bold decision to ensure that the tournament is taken around the world. When the council had voted for this, it was a brave move to take it to Japan. There is a very good rugby culture there and Japan have participated in most of the editions of the tournament. It is one of the largest industrial nations in sports – also a market that we wanted to ignite and grow. There were challenges because it is a market which has not hosted major rugby events like other markets but they are working brilliantly to ensure that we have a great tournament.
Our team bases are all selected, the 12 host cities and we have got a ticketing demand of 2.5 million registers. So, there is a large interest in Rugby World Cup – it’s a national phenomenon. We know that there will be a huge number of people coming from overseas – we are estimating about 450,000 fans coming into Japan for the event. It will also have a phenomenal effect on the economy of Japan and will create about $2 bn in economic activities.
We saw that in England as well. The commercial revenues are already up. We thought that in Japan because of the time zones of the traditional broadcasters in Europe where 60 per cent of the money comes from, we will have to budget down about 20% but the revenues are up from England in double digits. So, it is going to be a huge World Cup.
Not just Japan, the entire Asian market has a lot of potential. How do you plan to exploit that?
We aim to ensure that by 2020, there are 1 million new participants in the sport of Rugby. Obviously, the exposure on the Asian Time Zones during the six weeks of World Cup will have a massive impact. New fans are always recruited during an Olympics or a Rugby World Cup. So, the tournament will play a role in Asia that it has never before.
I think that world has been traditionally interested in what goes in Japan. Asia is probably even from interested than rest of the world. So, the curiosity levels are going to be high. Even outside of Asia, people who are used to of seeing Rugby played in traditional markets like France or Argentina, when they will see a major tournament being played in Japan, it will raise the excitement levels.
How did the sponsors react to the decision of taking the World Cup to Asia?
Sponsors have been incredible actually. We have had a huge step up. In general, there has been a 40% increase in revenues from our global partners. They have showed that there are willing to invest in this World Cup. Then, there are also local sponsors in Japan too who all want to be a part of this tournament. It has been very satisfying financially for us.
India has grown as a rugby nation in last two to three years. How much potential do you see here?
We have done a lot of research in last few years to understand where the maximum interest is in some of these markets. Interestingly, the top three fan base markets according to Nielson report are – the United States, China and then India – with about 25.7 million fans. That’s research based and it shows what huge potential that country has. In last 12 months, we have seen a participation of 116,000 in ‘Get Into Rugby’ programme in India with 40% of them being women. All of that says there is a huge potential for this sport in India and our role is to ensure exposure for the sport through potential deals we can do with broadcasters. But, also find a way to bring the sport to the people – something we haven’t done as well as we would have liked in the past.
Do you see India hosting a Rugby World Cup in the coming years?
Given the acceleration of the interest in sport, I don’t see any reason why it can’t. It all depends on what you call coming years. But, one day I am certain there will be a World Cup in India because the sport will grow in this market. What is important for us is that there is a fan base big enough to fill stadia over the World Cup. We had 2.47 million fans in England in 2015 and there will be over 2 million fans in Japan. France is forecasting an increase in the next edition. India have some great cricket stadia which might need some work but certainly, there is a population big enough to fill them. Of course, there is high commercial interest in this market. There are all the elements in India to host a Rugby World Cup one day.
We just had a World Cup in 7s in the United States – their first World Cup of any kind in Rugby. Maybe, that could be a great start for India to have a world cup of 7s first.