This isn’t just a big year for rugby, it’s massive

We already know that 2019 is a big year for rugby.

On top of the inimitable Six Nations, the rising Champions Cup and the growing strength of the league structures, there’s a World Cup this year, too. Next summer, in 2020, the Olympic Games will feature rugby sevens for a second time – after a hugely successful first go in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

So we know that this is a year on which the sport can build growth and ride into a new decade on a high.

We also know that this is a sport that has been slow to embrace most of the delights of the digital age. And that’s despite the fact that rugby has, on the whole, been quick to adopt technology on the field. Its openness to change is reflected in stark contrast with sports like football, who have been reticent over the years. And yet, away from the on-field action, football has a vastly superior digital footprint.

That’s starting to change, as more and more digital media becomes a focus for rugby’s biggest organisations.

An acceptance that fans want more content beyond live sport can only be a good thing: documentaries, behind the scenes video, podcasts and social media presence are all in need of development to satisfy the hunger of the fanbase.

Most importantly, though, the two upcoming set-piece events – the World Cup and the Olympic Games – will both take place in Japan. And having seen what good such major spectacles can do for a sport in its host nation this is a simply massive chance for rugby, and one that can’t be passed up. We know that this is a territory where the sport is already growing and where it is starting to become established.

This is arguably where content becomes most important. In fact, these days it’s hard to grow a sport without it. People want storylines, narrative arcs and social media posts to engage with in order to follow a sport. They want to know their athletes as they know celebrities, not just watch them from afar and get to know only their on-pitch personalities.

In Japan especially – but not exclusively – where there will be understandable hype for the next year or so, it will be about keeping rugby front of mind after that. How do you do that? By getting fans to buy into the storyline, and not just the one-off excitement of a World Cup.

Thanks to the intensity of a period that sees a World Cup take place just months before an Olympic Games, and where two different types of equally thrilling rugby are thrust into the spotlight side by side, the chance to capitalise on that and convert casual fans into ardent supporters is not one that comes around very often.

So this isn’t just a big year for rugby. It’s massive.

If you aren’t coming along to our #DSLondon event on Tuesday 26th February, featuring Six Nations, EPCR, HSBC and World Rugbty, then follow all the action on Twitter and LinkedIn over on @DigitalSportUK

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 836 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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