Infographic: where the money is globally in rugby - Green and Gold Rugby

Infographic: where the money is globally in rugby

Infographic: where the money is globally in rugby

A few weeks ago there was a bit of scoffing when the idea of an Americas-based Super Rugby team was mentioned by SANZAR. Of course the main reason was logistics, but obviously if the rewards are big enough, pesky things like distances could be overcome.

TRC viewers 2012 aus v argSo how big are the rewards?

In our podcast last year with SANZAR CEO Greg Peters, we got our first hint at the potential of a Super Rugby team being based in or from the Americas with a comment about the viewer figures out of Argentina for The Rugby Championship.

Following up this year, Green and Gold Rugby has learned that indeed the viewer numbers do speak for themselves, and by looking at the chart on the right, you can see why SANZAR is keen to explore an Argentinian element in Super Rugby.

The market interest in the new rugby world doesn’t end there, though. Explore the infographic below to see where the real dollars lie.

Looking at these numbers you can see why an Americas-based Super team is on the agenda. You can also see why G&GR’s own Bob Dwyer has an interest in Narbonne!

Are you surprised by these numbers? What do you think it means for rugby in the longer term?

  • JDog

    Ummm, not to doubt this wonderful site for a second, but the first infographic does not feature South Africa at all (which I believe is pretty much on a par with Eng in terms registered professionals).

    What is the calculation in the GDP per fans. Is it ave spend * pop of country or active fans?

    • South Africa now added!

      It’s the average GDP per capita times number of fans

  • Parra

    Jeez, the Yanks never do anything by half. Even though rugby is a niche sport there, their numbers are amazing.
    Also interesting is how insignificant NZ looks.
    It rather shoots down the argument that Aus is so diluted with all the codes it has. Compared with NZ we have more senior male players, about twice as many fans and much more ‘GDP generated by fans’.

    • Parra

      ..and doesn’t Arg put us to shame in terms of fans and viewers. Even GDP adjusted they’re in front.

    • nomis

      I guess it’s not always about how many senior men you have but what code your best athletes will gravitate to.

  • Johnno

    Global Rugby:

    -Where it’s headed

    All roads lead to Europe and Japan for now.

    -Europe like soccer, offers more money than South America.

    -All the south american soccer stars are in Europe. But the soccer league is Argentina and Brazil, generate more money than the A-league as far as I know.

    -But Europe rugby will just get bigger, especially as Russia,Portugal,Spain develop more over the next 10 years. Big countries especially Russia,and Spain, and countries like Belguim and Ukraine.

    -Argentina, will get a pro league. They were once offered a super rugby south america, with Brazil but said no due, to the strict amateur union running Argentina.

    -So will Brazil, already some of the Brazil soccer teams are setting up rugby clubs.

    -Global Super rugby comp:

    -Jus won’t happen, pipe dream stuff-player welfare,travel cost issues

    -USA is strong enough to have it’s own national comp with 2 Canada teams-Toronto,Vancouver.

    -Japan rugby will still be backed by the multinationals

    -And Europe rugby, France,England and other Europe countries and the Heineken cup will just get stronger.

    -France 2nd division is already very strong and wealthy

    -So Super rugby should look in SANZAR at 1 extra team for Aust,NZ, STH Africa

    -If there are depth issues just flood the teams with foreign imports 10 per team. look at the bigger picture rugby baby boomer out of touch protectionism traditionalists.

    -It’s better to have rugby teams with alot of imports, than no rugby teams at all as crappy local players don’t sell. Fan like in English soccer just want to watch the best for there team, and are very happy players are all foreign in the EPL they couldn’t care lees about if there team has not many locals if any.

    -It’s about commercialisation, and expanding rugby.

  • Kiap

    Interesting. Logistical issues aside, adding a Super team in a new market like Argentina may well add more value for SANZAR than going again to the same old well, where a lot of rugby fans are already watching. A 6th Super team in NZ, for example, is probably not going to generate the same amount of business, even if the player base there might be stronger.

  • Gus

    I really like the article but I have to take issue with one of the last graphics. I am not sure the total GDP generated by fans graphic is particularly useful in demonstrating the point you wish to make. By just multiplying the average GDP per capita by the number of fans I dont think you get a truly representative number.

    For example while South Africa has the close to the most fans it gets trounced in the GDP graph simply because there is a lot of poverty in south africa, 25% of the population lives on $1.25 a day or less, and hence has a much lower average GDP. I dare say that very few if any of the people that reported as South African fans in the survey figures were part of the abjectly poor south african lower class ( The report used for fan numbers was an online survey which poorer south africans would not be able to access and hence cannot really be represented).

    Furthermore the USA has the highest level of income inequity of any country in the world so while the true average GDP of the rugby fans in the USA will by higher than a lot of nations it is still surely skewed too high by the large amount GDP held by a very small percentage of americans. By just using the average GDP of the entire population you will either over or under estimate the earning potential of rugby in countries as the average GDP of the rugby fans can vary wildly from average GDP of the entire population.

    Also the GDP graph doesn’t look into how much the average fan is actually willing to spend on rugby. There is no weighting for the fact that a ‘Rugby Lover’ would undoubtably be more willing to spend more than ‘Rugby Fan’. Nor does it account for media markets that are already saturated with other sports, particularly in the USA.

    I do agree with you that the USA is an excellent growth market in the future for rugby as a whole. Both the player numbers and rate of growth attest to that. SANZAR should do more to build alliances with USA rugby but I dont think growing professional rugby in the USA is as foolproof as the GDP graph might suggest.

    • All good points.

      I agree the last measure is far from perfect, but it does add in some idea of the value of those economies and therefore of those fans. Surely taking no account of that, and looking only at numbers is just as if not more inaccurate.

      In the end, between these data sets and graphs the reader will need to use some level of interpretation.

    • Good points Gus,

      Football is the game they play in townships in RSA. They’d still get trounced in any measure of fan wealth, however GDP isn’t a fair measure for a country with such a vast distribution of wealth.

      This would apply to Australia as well to a lesser extent, Rugby fans, on average, are well educated and remunerated.

      • The Ham

        Looking at the earnings distribution does make some difference but not as much as you might think:

        The top 5% earnings quantile in South Africa is still lower than the earnings median in Australia (top 50% quantile) even on a PPP basis. The comparison is closer for white South Africans although still below the curve, and it’s only a few million there earning their living.

        SA has great players and great rugby fans, and has both in numbers. It’s a big country but it’s not a rich country compared to others mentioned in the blog. Well, not for a while yet, anyway. The broadcast deals will still be measured by US dollars, and the powers that be need to make sure they don’t kill the game in going for those $$$.

    • USARugger

      Good reply, but in the USA the largest growing point for rugby right now is at the College level. Most of these students either already are or will be in the upper levels of earning in this country (emphasis on “most” not “all”). It’s an absolutely enormous market for the game, and there is a huge hole to fill here.

      Americans regularly shell out what is considered VIP Club Seat tickets for most SuperXV matches just to see their home NFL/MLB team and to a lesser extent NBA and NHL teams play. Charging Americans for tickets to see a sport that they enjoy watching will not be an issue. Some colleges even charge small entrance fees to some of their matches, and in the case of BYU vs. Cal nearly 10,000 people turned out and paid to watch.

      While the USA may have some serious income inequity, we also have an absolutely enormous population when compared to almost every nation on any of those info-graphics. What that means is the proportions aside, the USA flat out has many, many more people making middle and upper level incomes in a very literal sense. As a direct result of this, there is a gigantic market here regardless of income inequity.

      First hand I’ve seen the game growing in the past few years, the CRC 7s tournament is a great example. It’s an unofficial invitational 7s tournament hosted by my university and my team (Temple) as well as NBC (national broadcaster in the USA). We get several days of exposure on national television and the tournament has grown dramatically in the past few years we’ve hosted it (which is why we keep getting to do it). People are paying $45-60 for two days of amateur college 7s…not too shabby in my mind. On top of that the viewer ratings absolutely smashed and eclipsed the stadium headcount. I don’t know many of the specific stats but I do know that Temple benefited something to the tune of ~$18 million in free advertising from the sheer exposure on national television to such a large viewer base.

      • Gus

        While there is a large middle class in the USA that is richer than most of the other countries listed that does still not change the point I made, which is that the overall GDP of the nation may not represent the actual GDP of the people who would be buying tickets/merch. The more variance in the wealth of the population the less likely it is that the mean GDP will be an accurate predictor of any subset in that population.

        Also while I do agree America is a fertile ground for the growth of rugby I think it is a bit ridiculous to compare rugby in the USA to the NFL or MLB. I would say a far better comparison would be professional soccer in the US which has taken 20 years and multiple failures to get where the MLS is today.

        I think you have overstated the media coverage a little bit too. While NBC is the rights holder for USA rugby and 7s tournaments the vast majority is shown on NBC sports which has a very small viewership. Most of the media interest seems to be based in the 7s form of the game. Right now DirectTV has the rights to SANZAR games and shows them for free on a pay per view channel with no ads because they can’t figure out how to monetize them ( which as a subscriber I am grateful for).

      • Gus

        This is not to say I don’t believe expansion to the USA won’t work but that it will still be difficult despite the amount of wealth and player base there. Most interest in rugby seems to be based in collegiate rivalries so to find a city and fan base to welcome a professional rugby team would be more challenging then you would think. My best guess would be a city like Las Vegas which has been a great host for 7s, has little to no competition with other major sports teams, and is near the southwest where it seems like a lot of the quality rugby in the US is being played.

        • RugbyAntics

          I think the interest centering around collegiate rivalries is relatively recent and only really exists in this form because it was an already marketable platform for advertisers and organizers to piggyback off of. I believe there are still more registered Senior Men’s Club players than there are Collegiate Men’s players which speaks to the health of the Senior Club game as well.

          I think one thing that will definitely inhibit the growth of a professional league will be the sheer geographic logistics involved. Think about how long it took for Australia to get a franchise in Perth.

          As a result of this I think that perhaps the first “pro” leagues to pop up here will be 7s (at least that is the way things are shaping up right now thanks to the Olympics and the accessibility of a game that is only 14 minutes long) and will be based regionally, with separate leagues in the Northeast and Southwest, possibly only crossing over in the late stages of the playoffs/the championship.

  • Crow

    I think that you’d have a better idea for the most part if you looked at the cost of acquiring the broadcast rights for the various regions. This would give you an idea of how much the broadcasters value the market and I think a better idea of the overall value of the market.
    Given the classic demographic stereotype of the affluent rugby follower, it may elevate the standing of those countries with a higher disparity in wealth. I’m specifically thinking of South Africa, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be seen in Australia as well, albiet to a much lesser extent.

  • Gibbo

    Don’t forget the Panda in the Room – China. Rugby is the chosen sport for the PLA.

  • Miles

    Off to my first US Rugby game at Stanford next week, looking forward to seeing how the yanks do it.

  • Roscoe Tims

    Any figures for Canada (or doesn’t it fit the graphic)?

    USA senior player numbers are impressive. It would be interesting to see what the breakdown and demographic of that is? Club or College (Uni)? I wonder whether those stats can be equated to traditional rugby clubs like in Oz, or are there other factors?

    • USARugger

      I’d be interested to see what the figures are for total senior-level registration (M and F). I feel like the USA has a disproportionately high number of female players. If I do recall I think we even won a World Cup at some point!

    • Canuckruck

      Hey…where is Canada? Certainly more rugby players than Brazil and Russia. Oh… and by the way we have moved ahead of Australia in the Sevens standings with our Plate win over Scotland. I won’t gloat too much unless it lasts longer than one tournament……

      • For whatever reason Canada wasn’t included in the research carried out into fan bases, so I didn’t carry it through to the player base

  • A. Fox-Russell

    Once again a really interesting article. Fantastic site.

    Only sort of on topic, but did anyone enjoy watching the U.S in the World Cup? I was really surprised on a few occasions how entertaining they were and how aggressive. I particularly liked their openside, who I think was their captain. Cleaver? That guy was a friggin axe, even if he did have a ponytail. He was completely flexing guys in defence. Good player.

  • Robson

    Looks like Brazil has had a Brazillian. I too have a problem with the GDP scenario. For a country that is supposed to have such a huge following and fan lover base, NZ gets very few numbers to Super 15 games. That is unless the games are in the provinces ie Hamilton, Invercagill, Rotorua where the population is not so dense (that is in numbers not in intellectual capacity) as it is in the main centres. The exception to this is, of course, Canterbury where the population is so aggressively parochial they make NSW supporters seem like saints.


Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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