When World Rugby announced that the Rugby World Cup would be hosted outside of a Tier One nation for the first time, awarding Japan with the honours, the codes governing body took a risk they couldn’t have predicted would yield such a ‘game-changing’ result.
Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby, told the Financial Times earlier this month that commercial revenue projections for Japan were estimated to be 20 to 25 per cent lower than the record-breaking tournament held in England in 2015.
However, demand on the ground has been high, open training sessions featuring Wales, New Zealand and South Africa have attracted more than 27,000 fans and rugby union’s global governing body recently revealed that more than 96 per cent of the tickets have been sold, with fans coming in from more than 170 countries.
“At the time Japan was appointed [host nation] we forecast commercial revenues to be down 20 to 25 per cent,” Gosper said.
“We now know that total commercial revenues will be higher in Japan than they were for England.”
The 2019 World Cup is now expected to bring in around US$449 million, up from US$411 million four years ago.
On top of surpassing initial commercial revenue projections, World Rugby has announced that its ground-breaking Impact Beyond legacy programme has achieved 1.8 million new rugby participants across Asia, including more than one million in Japan.
Started in 2016, the innovative Impact Beyond project is a crucial factor in World Rugby’s mission to grow the game globally and sustain rugby interest in Japan after the World Cup is over.
43% of new Asian participants are girls/women and World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, said the efforts being put into action to convert this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow rugby in Asia is incredible.
“Perhaps the most important ‘try’ of the tournament has already been converted, as more than one million Japanese youngsters have tried out rugby for the first time,” he said.
“The World Rugby Council awarded the Rugby World Cup to Japan because we believed that it could be a powerful game-changer for sporting and social change in Asia, the world’s most populous and youthful continent and the success of the Impact Beyond programme is a very important step on the journey.”
According to World Rugby’s financial statements, it makes more than 80 per cent of revenues and nearly all its profits — which the organisation describes as a “surplus” — from the World Cup.
So it was frightening for World Rugby to anticipate a drop in revenues from broadcasting and sponsorship deals in 2019 because the event was being held away from large markets where the sport is established, such as the UK, France and Australia.
This was deemed to be a price worth paying for trying to increase the sport’s popularity.
But, as it turns out, the overall value of international broadcasting rights has increased, thanks mainly to new deals in Japan where games will be shown by three broadcasters: J Sports, NHK and Nippon TV.
The tournament’s sponsorship deals have also maintained their value, thanks to the desire of established global corporate partners to target consumers in Asia, as well as new Japanese corporate sponsors.
With broadcasting rights, as well as most sponsorship and other commercial revenues from the tournament going to World Rugby and the host country making money mainly from ticket sales, organisers will be hoping to fill stadiums throughout the tournament.
Current ticket sales are at 1.8m, compared with 2.47m in England four years ago.
Japan won its opening match against Russia 30-10 at Tokyo Stadium in front of 45, 745 fans.