Report: Africa driving rugby popularity globally

Mazino Dickson


Africa is now one of the principal drivers of rugby, with a fan base of 32.7 million.

This numbers are principally responsible for the rising global audience for the sport.

This was the finding of a research published by Nielsen Sports.

The research was undertaken in November 2017 and across a sample of the population in 36 nations.

It paints a picture of a vibrant, growing sport that is increasingly broadening its global appeal.

Rugby has nearly 800 million followers globally, while more than 338 million considering themselves fans, with India, China and the USA alone constituting almost 33 per cent of the population, according to the largest-ever market research into fan trends and perceptions conducted by World Rugby.

With growth driven by emerging rugby markets of large populations, the research reflects participation trends, with significant increases in rugby interest driven by emerging markets since rugby’s Olympic Games inclusion:

  • 793 million people follow rugby globally, while 338 million consider themselves as fans – an increase of 24 per cent since 2013
  • The fanbase in emerging markets (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and USA) has increased by more than 50 per cent since 2013
  • Asia, North America, South America and Africahave the fastest-growing fan-bases with 112.5, 52.8, 38.2 and 32.7 million respectively
  • Of the 338 million fans, China and USA have 33 million fans, India 25 million fans and France 20 million fans, while RWC 2019 hosts

Official delight

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby welcomes this study, which paints a picture of a sport that continues to attract new and younger fans globally. The information will aid our strategic decision-making, assisting World Rugby, our regions and unions in ensuring attractiveness of the game and shaping future fan-engagement programmes.”

Speaking from India during the Rugby World Cup 2019 trophy tour, World Rugby Chief Executive Officer Brett Gosper added: “World Rugby is committed to ensuring a thriving, growing, inclusive game that is accessible to all and this research, which demonstrates significant fan-growth, reflects a sport that is effective in attracting a new, younger audience in non-traditional rugby nations, despite huge competition for eyeballs and attention.

“The research also demonstrates that rugby has significant growth potential in both traditional and non-traditional markets and is increasingly attracting a younger audience. We will use the insight to guide our decision-making and approach to growing fans and participants in rugby globally,” he said.

The main motivators for sports fans who are not currently interested in rugby to become fans include making it an easier sport to understand and access to international matches.

These are areas that World Rugby and its unions continually review and address through the federation’s Council and Executive Committee.