Rugby is considered one of the most popular sports in Australia. Australians love rugby, whether it is playing with friends in the yard or spectating finals in a crowded sports pub. Its sheer speed, tenacity, and roughness in combination with individual and team effort are appealing to many viewers both inside and outside of the country. According to the survey conducted in 2014, the Australian league player base has over 1,300,000 players. At the same time, the number of people attending sports competitions is relatively low – an all-time record was set in 2010, with around 3,500,000 viewers during the entire year.
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The last record of attendance was set in the year 1995, before the dawn of the internet and the revolution in communications technology. Nowadays, having a firm presence in the digital field is paramount to the success and progress in sports. Digital media offers extensive media coverage as well as multiple tools for attracting interest and attention of potential viewers and supporters. The fans would also appreciate having forums and dedicates sites that enable them to connect with each other and watch recaps of the latest games in good quality and with professional commentaries. In order to promote the sport’s popularity, the Australian Rugby Union along with all major gaming clubs, like the Wallabies, should invest in developing their digital presence and expanding the national footprint beyond the NSW and QLD.
Just like any other sport, Australian rugby has a business component to it. Sportsmen require equipment, medicine, quality fields, experienced coaches, and many other things in order to excel. This money comes directly from attendance and viewers. Since Rugby exists in Australia for over 150 years, it is easy to fall into the trap of complacency, thinking that the popularity of a particular sport is set in stone. In reality, it is not that simple. While the older spectators still remember and cherish the old glory days, the new generations know next to nothing about the sport or its history.
Rugby, just like soccer, cricket, and any other sport out there, has to compete for the audience in order to sustain itself. David Campese, a former Australia international, says in his interview that “Australian rugby can trace its problems to a lack of money and poor attendance at matches” (Binner, 2014). The performance of Australian most famous rugby club – the Wallabies, has been lacking for several years now, and it is remarked by a staggering amount of articles dedicated to their old and recent failures. This creates a circular issue – lack of funding affects the quality of the game, and quality of the game further affects the funding (Cully, 2016).
While the players clearly have to step up their game, it is clear that the funding problems would not end even if the Australian teams start winning games. As it was mentioned, in 2010 the sport had its all-time record of attendance, which is not that great compared to the total number of players who play the game professionally. In order to expand their audience, the ARU, and the major clubs need to work together and reach out to the audience both inside and outside the borders. This could be done through digital marketing strategy. Improving the sport’s presence in the digital field involves creation and management of many outlets of information, such as:
- Dedicated sport sites
- Fan forums
- Analytics sites
- Live streams
- Support for hand-held applications such as iPhones, tablets, and others
The ARU and the Wallabies, along with the Rugby Sevens teams seem to have realized this a while ago. Since 2012, all of them signed a partnership with Accenture Digital, in order to improve the gaming experience for the fans and attract new ones. The partnership had the purpose of taking advantage of the latest technology to provide data analytics, wears, mobile apps and other media outlets to improve their digital presence (The Australian Rugby Union, 2012).
However, despite the fact that 4 years have passed since signing the contract with Accenture Digital, Australia still experiences troubles with adequately covering all the bases. One of the glaring issues is a lack of media coverage of the Australian female rugby league. Another is the lack of promotion of its sports and players abroad, where it has to compete with NRL, AFL, and FFA. Another digital coverage problem that Australia has to face is slow internet, especially in the areas outside of NSW and QLD. (Killalea, 2016). Lastly, the lack of presence of rugby teams from other cities presents an issue, as the rest of Australia does not have many local teams participating in the national footprint that they could root for.
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This paper concludes that the ARU and the major rugby clubs in Australia must continue investing in digital media coverage of the events and constantly improve the quality and variety of services they are offering their fans. This must be done competitively, as other Rugby associations from neighbouring countries, such as New Zealand, are looking to promote their own interests. Rugby should be promoted in other cities outside of NSW and QLD, with more teams accepted into the national footprint. In addition, the headliners of the sports industry, such as the Wallabies, need to improve their performance and end the string of shameful defeats, as no media coverage strategy would be enough to make the audience love losers.
The Australian Rugby Union: connecting fans with one of Australia’s favorite games. (2012). Web.
Binner, A. (2014). Australian rugby’s fall from grace. Al-Jazeera. Web.
Cully, P. (2016). Bledisloe Cup 2016: The cold, hard truth about this Wallabies performance. The Sydney Morning Herald. Web.
Killalea, D. (2016, March 29). NBN: Australia’s internet speeds under the spotlight on Q&A. News.com. Web.