BLOG | by Sara Eddleston

For a country whose national sport is soccer, the British public sure talk about rugby a lot.

Following the publication of our 2018 Buzz Report, SMG Insight’s General Manager, Sara Eddleston blogs here about rugby and it’s challenge to the beautiful game … amongst other things.

Our report, released last week, reveals that rugby events were two of the three most positively talked-about sports events in the UK. They were beaten for Buzz only by Wimbledon.

You can read more about our methodology in the full 2018 Buzz Report but what this means is that during the last calendar year, the Six Nations and the British and Irish Lions Tour were more positively talked about than any football tournament, any horse race, any multi-sport event like the Olympics – in fact any sport other than tennis.

And although rugby has historically performed well in our rankings, especially in World Cup years, this is the first time it has turned in such a dominant show of force.  So why should that be the case?

The obvious point to make – and this applies to all the sports properties we monitor – is that good performances on the pitch typically translate into Buzz (chatter amongst the public). And strong performances by England in the Six Nations and by the British and Irish Lions on tour in New Zealand have definitely got people talking. (We’re not forgetting Scotland, Ireland and Wales here – but since the bulk of the UK’s population lies in England, it strongly influences overall Buzz).

And success on the field doesn’t just drive positive Buzz amongst existing fans. It also attracts new ones. Take a look at the chart below, which shows that more and more people think they will realistically attend a Six Nations game. The graph, which starts just as Eddie Jones was appointed England coach, will be the envy of many rightsholders.

The tournament has come a long way since 1997 when, because of contractual disputes following professionalisation, it briefly became the Four Nations. It’s consistently high entertainment levels and long-term terrestrial TV deals have allowed it to flourish.

Indeed, UEFA’s Club Licensing Benchmarking Report marks the tournament down as achieving the highest average levels of attendance of any sports event in the world, with nearly 4,000 more spectators per match than the NFL.

For the British and Irish Lions, the picture around its popularity is more complex.

The side tours only every four years, TV rights are held by a subscription broadcaster and the time differences for tours can make watching games less than straightforward.

Yet the Lions make people talk. And watch. This year’s first Test games became the second and third most-watched non-soccer sports events on UK subscription TV ever.

The tour’s popularity as a property is naturally cyclical (it last hit these heights in 2013, when it went to Australia). So part of its popularity this year is driven by its scarcity value. And the performance of both properties is buoyed by them involving national sides – which typically attract a wider audience, beyond pure sports fans.

Yet I have a sense, informed by the data we collect every day, that rugby as a sport is hitting a critical mass in the UK and is a good bet for sponsors.

Its good governance (and avoidance of major scandals); the broad appeal of its role models; a perception that, as a sport, it offers both value for money and prestige; and the upscale demographics of fans all set it apart from many of its competitors.

As our Buzz Report indisputably shows, people are talking about rugby and for all the right reasons.

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SARA EDDLESTON
General Manager

Sara has over 20 years’ experience in the global market research industry. Since joining SMG Insight in October 2016 she has lead the consumer insight division, maximising the benefits offered to clients through the company’s advanced range of research techniques and its unique partnership with YouGov.