Rugby World Cup 2019 and Japan

Rugby is Breaking New Ground in Japan and Opening Business Opportunities for Foreign Companies

Murray Barnett, World Rugby’s Head of Commercial, Marketing and Broadcast spoke at a joint British and Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan event in Tokyo.

Rugby has seen a spike in interest in Japan due to the amazing performance shown by Japan’s national rugby team in England during Rugby World Cup 2015.

With the Rugby World Cup set to take place in Japan in 2019, he covered such topics as the commercial success of Rugby World Cup 2015, what bringing the Rugby World Cup to Japan could mean for the sport, the growth of the game in the world today, and what lies ahead in the future.

History and Role of World Rugby

World Rugby was founded in 1886, and the Rugby World Cup, which it organises, is a private event not funded by either the Government or the taxpayer. Barnett believes that rugby is differentiated from other sports such as soccer due to the emphasis on its fore values, which include solidarity, passion, integrity, respect, and discipline.

Respect is one of the most respected values in Japan, and Barnett believes this will appeal to Japanese fans.

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The Japanese team showed their dedication and hard work, embodying the five core values during Rugby World Cup 2015, and this success is set to carry through to 2019, which will be the 9th world cup. During the event itself, audience viewers in Japan jumped up from a baseline of 1 million to 25 million for the Japan vs Samoa match.

Ninety percent of World Rugby’s revenue comes from Rugby World Cup events, and thus the goal of the association is to achieve the widest possible distribution, reach the widest audience and attract new audiences to the sport.

“Rugby World Cup is often compared to the Olympics and the World Cup, but we are still a lot smaller in terms of development,” remarked Barnett.

Rugby World Cup Success in 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015, which was held in locations across the UK, was a hugely successful event. The event involved 11 host cities, 42 team bases, 48 matches, 15 fan zones, and a huge volunteer programme with 6,000 participants.

Part of the success of the event, Barnett believes, is due to the keeping the players front and centre.

“It was very important to us to look after the players, first and foremost, and there was a lot of tweaking and evaluation around the medical staff and refereeing,” he said.

Benefits of hosting a Rugby World Cup include ample opportunities for a host country to generate income through business wins, goods and services used, and tourist activity, as well as host city benefits such as increased exposure for candidate cities as they go through the bidding process. The city of Brighton for example wanted to increase its visibility as a tourist destination in the UK by bidding for and winning the chance to be a host city. This successful bid put the city in the spotlight on the global stage.

The event generated around GBP 3 billion worth of indirect economic impact for the UK.

Part of the success of the Rugby World Cup in the UK was due to the global sporting event coming off the back of a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, as the UK audience was already conditioned for big events. Japan will share a similar situation as it is set to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

The host cities delivered a spectacular show, creating rugby-related events, displays, and exhibitions. Some of the more popular displays were a rugby ball embedded into Cardiff Castle walls, and an interactive London Eye.

An engaged audience provides a higher revenue and economic impact, and these are some considerations for Japan’s host cities.

What Rugby World Cup 2019 Means For Japan

“Every World Cup,” said Barnett, “is completely different.”

In Japan, venues have been selected from Sapporo to Fukuoka – it will be a countrywide event, rather than just focused on Tokyo.

The Japan team’s success in 2015 will definitely influence the turnout and engagement, having raised the sport’s profile in Japan.

In Barnett’s words, the performance of team Japan has “turbo-charged everything, and in fact, Japan is ranked in the world top 10.”

The benefits of Japan, or indeed any nation, hosting a Rugby World Cup include the event being a massive driver of tourism as visitors from all around the world arrive to enjoy the matches; the economic impact, as these visitors spend money, generating income; the creation of jobs cross various industries within the host country; being a growth engine for the sport; and the chance for cities to market themselves and attract tourists for the duration of the tournament and beyond.

Murray Barnett called Rugby World Cup 2015 “our greatest World Cup ever, however, we are excited for 2019 and are certain that 2019 will be spectacular.”

Japan will face a number of challenges, both logistical and around sustaining public interest in the sport, and engaging the Japanese audience.

It is clear that World Rugby are working with their Japanese counterparts to ensure the delivery of an amazing tournament in 2019.

UK companies should watch for potential business opportunities around global sporting events in Japan for 2019, 2020 and 2021.


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Article by Vanessa Holden, June 2016.