A record of around 857-million people watched the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan via World Rugby’s network of rights-holding broadcast partners, translating into a 26% increase in viewership from the tournament in England in 2015.
With World Rugby producing statistics for the first time, Asia’s first Rugby World Cup grew the cumulative live audience from 479m in 2015 to 501m in 2019 – a 5% increase – despite the time difference to the traditionally dominant rugby broadcast markets of France and the United Kingdom.
Springboks’ historic victory inspires record live final audience
South Africa’s triumph over England was the most watched World Cup final ever with an average live audience of 44.9m fans watching the Boks prevail 32-12 to claim a record-equalling third Webb Ellis title.
That represented an 83% increase on the live television audience for the final between the All Blacks and Wallabies at Twickenham four years previously, while the total viewing figure was up by 63% to 51.3m.
Interest in the UK and South Africa was high, and a combined 16.7m people across the two countries made the final a part of their Saturday morning routine – more than double the figures achieved in those markets in 2015.
Rugby World Cup final the most watched sports event of 2019 in the UK
The progress of South Africa’s final opponents, England, helped deliver outstanding outcomes for UK rights holder ITV despite a challenging time zone.
The peak final audience of 12.8m and a 79% audience share, it was the most watched sports event of the year and the second-most watched TV programme of the year behind Gavin and Stacey in the UK.
Japan cements new status as rugby’s biggest broadcast market
Japan contributed just over half of all global viewing. A total cumulative audience of 425m tuned into RWC 2019, more than five times the Japanese viewership for England 2015.
The most watched match on Japanese TV was the Brave Blossoms’ unforgettable Pool A encounter with Scotland in Yokohama.
Japan’s quarter-final clinching victory, which went ahead just hours after typhoon Hagibis had passed through the country, was watched by a domestic peak record rugby TV audience of 54.8m – more than the 2002 Fifa World Cup final.
Japan also recorded the highest viewing figures for the Rugby World Cup final, as a live average of 17.2m fans watched Siya Kolisi lead the Boks to World Cup glory.
Those figures helped swell the global cumulative viewership for the tournament, which grew from 679m four years ago to 851m in 2019. That represented an increase of 26% or 172m viewers.
Viewers outside Europe represented a highest-ever 71% share of the total TV audience, nearly double the share of audience achieved at England 2015.
Emerging nations’ interest booms
With Rugby World Cup a proven inspirer of new fans, 52% of people who followed the tournament in emerging markets did so for the first time.
Japan was not the only market that experienced impressive growth during the tournament. Driven by a move to free-to-air broadcasting, Germany became the seventh-highest viewing territory globally with 10.82m cumulative viewers tuning in.
That put Germany ahead of Italy and Ireland in terms of cumulative viewers and contributed to a rise in the cumulative audience of more than 55% across German-speaking European countries.
RWC 2019 also reached new audiences in south-east Asia, propelled by impressive growth in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam – all placed in the top 20 TV markets globally – cumulative viewing figures increased from a base of less than one million to 20.5m.
Access to Rugby World Cup driving global fan growth
A global study found that the number of rugby fans – those either interested or very interested in the sport – grew by 61m from 344m in May 2018 to 405m in November 2019 following the World Cup. Almost two-thirds of the growth came from Asia, with India and Vietnam joining Japan as the highest-growing markets. The number of female fans continues to grow at more than six times the rate of male fans globally.
Comment on the record-shattering audience statistics, World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: ‘These exceptional broadcast figures reaffirm our belief that Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan will be remembered as one of the great, if not the greatest of all Rugby World Cups.
‘It had everything – exceptional rugby on the field, a host nation team that exceeded all expectations, capturing hearts and minds, and the inspiring story of Siya Kolisi – all creating an incredible story that captured the imagination of people around the world in record numbers.
‘Overall audience growth is just one part of the story. It is particularly pleasing for the future development of the sport that Rugby World Cup 2019 broadcast success was driven by younger people in emerging markets such as India, Germany and across Asia, while Japan is now a major broadcast market for rugby – generating a sustainable audience legacy for the sport.’
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