On September 8th, the world will turn its eyes to France, host of the 10th Men’s Rugby World Cup. As international teams vie for the title, a global audience tunes in with rapt attention. With matches spread across iconic venues in France, including Paris, where the grand finale will unfurl, this global event provides not just an athletic spectacle but a stage where brands can spotlight their identity amidst the energy and camaraderie of the games.

Taking place every 4 years, it’s venues across France (including Paris where the final will take place) that are hosting this year’s hard-fought tries and grueling scrums.

For brands and marketers, global sporting events like the Rugby World Cup are just as compelling as they are to those sports fans engrossed in the matches. These events unveil pivotal opportunities for brands to interact with an enthusiastic audience, tapping into the excitement and amplifying their global reach.

Renowned brands including Mastercard, Emirates, Asahi, Capgemini, and Meta, have aligned themselves with the 2023 tournament as official sponsors, keenly aware of the vast potential for global visibility.

Delving into the fabric of the competition and its audience, we unravel the layers of potential awaiting brands and marketers.

The Numbers

Ranking as the third most-watched global sporting spectacle, the Men’s Rugby World Cup stands shoulder to shoulder with giants like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games.

In 2019, Japan’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup yielded an impressive economic footprint of nearly £4.3 billion, as per EY’s findings. This year, with France at the helm, expectations are soaring.


Ticket Sell Outs


TV Viewers


Matches Played


Tickets Sold


Economic Spillover


Fanzone Admissions


Social Media Viewers


Tournament Days Period

Unpacking the event further, here’s a snapshot of its impressive metrics:

  • The 2019 RWC achieved a ticket sell-out rate of 99%, the highest ever in RWC history. In total, 1.72 million tickets were sold.
  • 857.28 million global viewers watched the action on TV, up 26% from 678.53 million in 2015, when it was hosted in England.
  • However, the 2019 RWC saw a fivefold increase (2.04 billion views) in the number of times the games were viewed on social media compared to 2015 (370 million views).
  • RWC 2023 has trumped the 2019 competition in terms of ticket sales and is the fastest-selling tournament ever. “More than 2.5 million tickets [have been] sold, which is the capacity of the tournament,” Michel Poussau, World Rugby’s Chief of Events and Rugby World Cup 2023 Executive Director, told SportsPro.
  • Poussau also said he was “optimistic” that viewership for the 2023 Rugby World Cup would eclipse the 857 million people who tuned in to the 2019 edition in Japan.
  • According to a report by ResearchandMarkets.com (Scrumming Up Profits: Inside the Commercial Success of Rugby World Cup 2023), this year’s competition also boasts a remarkable 38 brand partners, a testament to the competition’s magnetic appeal. These partnerships are projected to generate an estimated annual value of $143.75 million or £133.2 million.

The Audience

Let’s break down the 2019 RWC audience, to give an idea of a typical RWC viewer.


In 2019, the Rugby World Cup’s live audience expanded from 479 million in 2015 to 501 million – marking a 5% rise. This growth is notable, especially considering the significant time difference European viewers faced, with matches being hosted in Japan.

According to SportsPro, South Africa’s triumph over England in the 2019 final, was the most-watched Rugby World Cup final in the tournament’s 32-year history, with an average live audience of 44.9 million fans tuning in. That represented an 83% increase in the live television audience for the final at Twickenham four years previously.

In the UK, ITV showed the 2019 action and drew a peak final audience of 12.8 million and a 79% audience share. It marked the UK’s most-watched sports event of the year and the second-most watched TV programme of 2019.

World Rugby reported that 2019 host nation, Japan, saw a total cumulative audience of 425 million tune into the tournament, more than five times the Japanese viewership for the 2015 RWC in England. In fact, Japan’s 28-21 victory over Scotland drew a total 54.8 million domestic viewers and marked the tournament’s biggest TV audience in the host nation.

But it wasn’t just Japan. Interest from other new territories surged in 2019 too.

Viewers outside of Europe represented a 71% share of the total TV audience, nearly double the audience share achieved during the 2015 competition. World Rugby also reported that 52% of people who followed the tournament in emerging markets did so for the first time. In Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, cumulative viewing figures increased from a base of less than one million to 20.5 million.

As for the on-ground audience in France for this year’s games? Over 600,000 international visitors are projected to attend the matches.

The RWC viewership data indicates a rising trend, both in established rugby-following nations and in emerging territories. While this year’s competition shifts to Europe from Asia, it is anticipated that the fan base garnered in Japan and other Asian countries during the 2019 edition will remain engaged.

Google Trends: Rugby World Cup – Last 12 Months (August 2023)


According to a survey conducted by GWI prior to the 2019 competition, Rugby World Cup fans are typically full-time working (64%) people in their mid-thirties, married (53%) and with children (59%).

Although it’s often assumed that rugby as a sport attracts a male-dominated audience, the survey found that around 4 in 10 Rugby World Cup fans globally are women.

In fact, World Rugby is the first major sport federation to pledge an “ultimate state of equality” for every player, by removing references to gender in its men’s and women’s tournament names.

Later in this article, we’ll examine how certain brands, like Guinness, have recognised and aligned their strategies with this evolving demographic landscape.


GWI research split rugby fans into some key age groups, finding that 15% of rugby fans are Gen Z, 44% are Millennials, 32% are Gen X and 9% are Baby Boomers. This research was carried out around 5 years ago, so the breakdown may have altered slightly. The data suggests that rugby appeals to a broad age spectrum, with regional and national rugby organisations promoting the sport among younger generations.

The research also revealed that the average rugby fan is 1.7 times more likely to be in the top 10% income bracket.


Find the Perfect Fit For Your Brand


Event Consumption

Before the 2019 RWC, GWI surveyed UK consumers. It found 45% of internet users will be watching or following the RWC games, with 22% saying they’ll be watching most, if not all, matches.

According to a GWI profile of rugby fans, social media is key, showing that fans embrace multi-platform deep engagement with content.

GWI’s online profiling research in 2018 found that 49% of those surveyed said they ‘second screen’ and use social media whilst watching TV, with 18% admitting they comment on Facebook about a sports event, and 14% tweet about it whilst simultaneously watching. 34% said they follow sports stars on social media and 3 in 10 said watching/following sports events is one of their main reasons for using social media.

Nearly half claimed to watch rugby online (41%) with 61% tuning into broadcast TV to catch a game.

During the 2019 RWC, the time difference presented opportunities for brands to target rugby fans who proved to be perceptive to ads on TV streaming services. In fact, GWI reported that 87% of fans say they don’t mind streaming ads as long as they’re able to see the content they want to watch (26%), the video plays in good quality (27%), or the services are free (45%).

Despite the 2023 tournament being closer to home this year, this consumer behaviour is something that brands could capitalise on. ITV is offering live and free coverage of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in the UK, but there is a large contingent of consumers who will be using streaming services to catch up, watch or re-live epic moments. The multifaceted advertising opportunities presented by this, combined with in-game and surrounding event social media engagement, are noteworthy. Evidence points to rugby fans as multi-channel sports consumers.

Monetising the Event

When considering some ways your brand could captialise on the 2023 RWC, you need to understand what makes rugby fans tick. Let’s review.

GWI’s research highlights the following persona attributes.

Rugby fans are generally an affluent, brand-conscious bunch but they’re also a community-driven audience. They are willing to spend money and are brand-led – to an extent. Interestingly, they are more likely to purchase if brands offer them more than just flashy products. According to GWI, Rugby World Cup fans are 34% more likely to buy a product simply for the experience of being part of the community built around it. Thus, aligning with a sense of community may resonate with the values rugby fans appreciate.

Rugby fans are eco-conscious too. According to a 2018 report from GWI, 62% of rugby fans agree or strongly agree with the statement that they like to buy natural or organic products and 61% said they would pay more for sustainable or eco-friendly products.

They expect a strong and ethical brand purpose that goes beyond the products and services already on offer. Incorporating charitable or philanthropic elements in marketing strategies could resonate given these insights.

Although they are perhaps more affluent than most, GWI data also shows that putting the effort in to understand and engage these consumers will pay off in the long term. 65% agreed that they tend to stick to a brand once they find one they like, and 55% agreed that they tended to opt in for personalised loyalty rewards from brands.

RWC marketing case studies

To better understand the potential of the Rugby World Cup for marketers, let’s delve into some insightful marketing case studies from the 2019 RWC.

Guinness: Tailoring Campaigns to Demographics

We know that 40% of global rugby fans are women and Guinness engaged with this demographic brilliantly in 2019 when it launched an addition to its Made of More campaign, “Liberty Fields”.

It showed a TV ad and five-minute documentary portraying the struggles of female Japanese rugby players who resisted the social conventions of 1980s Japan by forming the first female rugby squad.

The result? Guinness enjoyed higher brand awareness as a RWC sponsor among female UK fans than its main competitor in the same space, Heineken. GWI stats show that Guinness topped the charts, together with RBS, among females.

Emirates: Infusing Humour & Real-time Engagement

Dubai-based Emirates has been an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup for more than a decade.

In 2019, the company’s 15-second short videos showed passengers on an Emirates flight commit various in-flight ‘offences’ such as falling asleep on another passenger’s shoulder (we’ve all been there!) which is then called out by an actual rugby referee.

The ad also promoted a great new addition to Emirate flights – live sporting events on passenger video screens, so no one missed a single try.

Take a look here: Rule #35: Avoid obstruction.

Air New Zealand: Leveraging National Passion without Official Sponsorship

Air New Zealand wasn’t an official sponsor of the 2019 RWC but took the opportunity to show just how passionate the company is about the sport with a bit of ambush marketing.

Air New Zealand released a series of videos for the Rugby World cup which imagine the airline rebranded as Air All Blacks, after the country’s national team.

The ad shows Air All Blacks ‘management’ planning its own safety video, with special cameo appearances from All Blacks players and other celebrities.

Watch it here: Air All Blacks #AirNZSafetyVideo


The expansive scale and global reach of the RWC are undeniable. Not only do new competitions keep beating previous viewership and ticket sales records, the increasing popularity of the sport in new territories and amongst new demographics means its reach doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Gaining insights into the behaviour and persona of a typical rugby fan is pivotal for brands aiming to connect meaningfully with this expanding, dedicated, and affluent audience.

We’ve developed a Promotion Playbook – complete with a rugby theme, of course – that we’ve pulled together from our own practical insights and external research. It’s designed to help you understand and unlock the most efficient promotional tactics and strategies, as well as examining the best time to put them into play.

Use it to unlock your promotional game plan to boost customer engagement, conversions and brand loyalty within your next marketing strategy. Download you copy here.



Disclaimer: Please note that while we often discuss and reference various global promotional activities, including those from the RWC, we are in no way directly linked or officially partnered with the Rugby World Cup or its governing entities. Our insights and comments are based on our professional perspective and are not endorsed by, or reflect the views of, the RWC. Any trademarks or logos mentioned are the sole property of their respective owners, and are used here for illustrative purposes only.