2013 was a special year for rugby league fans in the UK. Throughout October and November, fourteen different nations from across the world met in the UK with the aim of becoming the best international side in the world. This was the Rugby League World Cup.
Media Challenges Versus Other Sports
Some of you may be unaware the event took place and not just because you’re not Rugby League fans; the sport is very much dwarfed when it comes to national coverage in the media and online, with sports like football, rugby union, F1 and cricket taking centre stage. Perhaps the reason for this is that the sport very much remains a heartland game predominantly from the M62 corridor with exception to two clubs in London and the south of France in the elite domestic competition. There is a more national feel to the lower divisions but their size means that they barely register on the consciousness of the national media. Its lack of major events in this country compared to other sports could also be a contributory factor. The recent World Cup, following on from the success of the London Olympics a year earlier, provided a great opportunity to renew interest in the game and put it back on Britain’s sporting map. Rugby League isn’t featured on The Daily Telegraph’s menu bar. Instead, it is situated in the ‘Other Sports’ section. RLWC2013 Media Executive, Tom Coates, told Plusnet “We focused on capitalising on the success of the Olympics, and sought to push our tournament as the successor to the 2012 event in order to transcend beyond rugby league and sports fans.
“Much of the media cynicism towards the event was generated in response to the perceived failure of the 2000 Final, and the general apathy shown towards international Rugby League by fans in this country (in terms of attendances).”
Interest in Rugby League over time
Google provides a great tool called ‘Trends’, which allows users to input a search term and find out how popularity of that term changed over time. For the term ‘rugby league’, it would seem that prior to the World Cup’s Opening Ceremony on October 26th people searching for this were in decline.Worldwide Graph for Term ‘rugby league’ Jan 2004-September 2013United Kingdom Graph for term ‘rugby league’ Jan 2004-September 2013 Though it is not all doom and gloom as Google’s graph shows that in comparison to searches for ‘rugby league’, people searching for ‘Super League’, the top elite league in the sport, actually grew between the same periods of time.
The impact of RLWC2013 on Worldwide searches
The Rugby League World Cup undoubtedly bore fruit for the game as some slightly ramped up media coverage coupled with promotion via television and radio sent searches for the sport (term ‘rugby league’) and also the World Cup (term ‘rugby league world cup’) rocketing, as shown by the graph below from 2004 onwards.
Did the RLWC2013 team feel this impact?
As ticket sales grew and more people rushed to secure seats, the RLWC2013 website had to be transferred to a new server due to large demand. The website Statshow shows that Compete, the Digital Intelligence company, recorded that the number of unique visitors increased from around 3000 people in August to just under 8000 by November. As explained by Coates: “We did experience unprecedented demand for tickets and information about the tournament, and we perhaps underestimated how much of that would be in the form of direct traffic to our website.
“We were able to make the switch [to the new server] fairly quickly without disrupting many people’s experiences.”
In terms of social media, undoubtedly a significant part of any major brands marketing push in the 21st century, the World Cup saw a tremendous growth as the competition neared its opening ceremony. On Twitter, according to Twitter Counter, the RLWC2013 Twitter account saw growth of over 9,000 people from before the opening weekend up to the end of the tournament on 30th November. Facebook also saw a rise in terms of people following the page and also talking about the World Cup. Coates added:
“The internet has been central to the marketing and promotion of Rugby League World Cup 2013. Driving fans and members of the public to our website through social media and the publication of original and engaging content has played a key role in the success of the tournament in terms of attendances and public awareness. “We built both social media channels from scratch and have always maintained a policy of placing our supporters at the forefront of everything we do, on Facebook and Twitter in particular. We sought interaction, conversation and debate with supporters and responded and acted upon their comments and criticisms whenever possible. It helped to build a healthy online community where members feel valued and respected.”
What is the future for rugby league and the World Cup?
The tournament itself was a major success and has surpassed expectations and has delivered a profit believed to be around £4m, a large amount of money in terms of rugby league, and an increase on the previous tournament held in 2008 in Australia. But Coates explains that the hard work still continues, even after the tournament has finished:
“Sell-out crowds communicated the message that this tournament is a success, and the rewards we got from that was heightened interest in the matches that followed. We believe that people want to be a part of something that is successful, relevant and fashionable, and we tried to underpin those feelings with our own messaging.“We are currently in the process of implementing a legacy plan for the RLWC2013 Facebook and Twitter accounts, which will see both pages rebranded and renamed [@IntlRL and facebook.com/intlrl] for the purpose of continuing to connect with fans of international Rugby League, and growing and nurturing the online community we have already built ahead of the next Rugby League World Cup.“It shows that there is an appetite for big, well marketed events in the UK, whatever sport it is, if the product is marketed well and to the right people. Constant positive output combined with efforts to encourage supporters to speak positively about the event, share their hopes and express their opinions can have a huge impact, as it did for RLWC2013.”
Did you see RLWC2013 on TV? Did you attend any games? Do you think rugby league can grow in this country? Let us know your thoughts below!
Top 5 Places Searching for the Rugby League World Cup Worldwide
*According to Google Trends for last 12 months for term ‘rugby league world cup’.