The biggest sporting event on the planet this year – the Rugby World Cup (RWC) – starts later this week.
The RWC is now big business and is the third largest sporting tournament in the world (after the Olympic Games and the FIFA Soccer World Cup).
As many of our readers are based in countries where rugby is not a mainstream sport, sportsnetworker is pleased to provide an overview of the tournament to whet your appetite.
The RWC is now in its seventh edition. The sport, according to legend, was begun by William Webb Ellis at a public school in Rugby, England in 1823, but didn’t stage its first World Cup until 1987. That World Cup was co-hosted byAustralia and New Zealand. In 1987, rugby was still an amateur sport (although clandestine payments to players were rumored) and the Cup had a relatively difficult start. Sponsors were still being lined up just days before the opening kick-off and administrators even overlooked finding a trophy. The (now iconic) golden Webb Ellis Trophy had to be purchased from the shelf of a London jeweler at the last minute.
Sixteen nations were invited in 1987. The standard of play was mostly impressive. In front of a crowd of 48,350 at Auckland’s iconic Eden Park and a television audience of just over 300 million people, the New Zealand All Blacks won the inaugural tournament, defeating France29-9 in the Final.
The 1987 tournament was attended by 600,000 fans in total.
The first tournament changed the face of rugby. Twenty-four years later the game is much improved, faster and professional. Today the Rugby World Cup is a far bigger product.
Only 4 nations have ever lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy:
- 1987 New Zealand
- 1991 Australia
- 1995 South Africa
- 1999 Australia
- 2003 England
- 2007 South Africa
The favorites for this year’s Cup are again the same 4 nations. New Zealand, number 1 in the world rankings, is expected by many to repeat their 1987 triumph on home soil.
This year’s tournament
Dates: 6 weeks, starting on September 9 and finishing on October 23 (Final is at21:00NZ local time).
Teams: 20 (4 pools of 5) with the top 2 sides in each pool proceeding to the quarter finals (knock-out).
Pool A: New Zealand, France, Tonga, Canada, Japan
Pool B: Argentina, England, Scotland, Georgia, Romania
Pool C: Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia, USA
Pool D: South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Samoa, Namibia
Matches: 48 in total, equating to at least 3,840 minutes of rugby (two previous World Cup Finals, in 1995 and 2003, went to extra time).
Venues: The tournament will be staged on both the North and South islands of New Zealand.
- Eden Park, Auckland (venue for the Opening game and Final)
- Otago Stadium, Dunedin
- Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill
- Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
- Mclean Park, Napier
- Trafalagar Park, Nelson
- Stadium Taranaki, NewPlymouth
- North Harbour Stadium, NorthShore
- Arena Manawatu, Palmertson North
- Rotorua International Stadium, Roturua
- WellingtonRegional Stadium, Wellington
- Northland Events Stadium, Whangerai
(Source: Tourism NZ, 2011)
- RWC 2011 will be watched by more than 4 billion people in 200+ countries
- 85,000 overseas visitors are expected to attend the Tournament.
- The average length of stay will be 23 days.
- The surplus from the 2007 Tournament in France was £122m (U$197m) – a record for the event.
- Forecasted income from the event from ticket sales is NZ$268m (U$319m) but there are still presently tickets available for most games.
- Most visitors will come from Australia, the UK, Ireland, France, South Africa, USA and Canada.
Social Media and Digital Presence
Given sportsnetworker’s love of all things digital, it is only appropriate to look at the efforts of the RWC in this space. In fact, in January this year, Lewis Howes from SEA and sportsnetworker interviewed Shane Harmon, GM of Marketing and Communications for the 2011 RWC Tournament. You can hear about the social media strategies of RWC 2011 and watch the entire interview with Shane here.
The numbers that RWC 2011 has accumulated are impressive and a lasting legacy for the next Tournament in 2015 in England:
RWC 2011 also has a You Tube channel and a mobile app which is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android, WP7 and the Blackberry handset (Blackberry is an official sponsor) and Blackberry’s Playbook.
For more information on digital and how to download the app, refer to the Official Website.
For those of you not attending the Tournament, you can of course watch it on television. In the US, where rugby is fast growing as a sport, RWC will be shown on NBC Universal. Here in Australia, all games will be shown live on a dedicated 24 hour HD rugby channel on Fox Sports and several games (including all Wallabies games) will be telecast on Channel 9.
The full list of broadcasters across the globe is available on the Official Website here.
A Rugby Carnival
I’ll end this guide with some words written by Peter Fitzsimmons (a former Australian rugby international and now leading journalist) published in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper of September 3.
“The wonderful thing about this carnival is that it has a culture all its own, unique in the world of sport and best exemplified by a scene I saw in Marseille during the last World Cup in 2007. For on the weekend of the quarter-finals, after South Africa played Fiji and Australia played England, there by Marseille harbour were tens of thousands of rugby fans, carrying on into the wee hours – drinking, dancing, cavorting and hugging each other for no good reason – and all of it with no security! At least 50,000 people there, with not a gendarme in sight, for there was no need – they were rugby people.
And the other factor is this. Rugby is the most inclusive of all games. If you were at a basketball world cup and were on the lookout for fellow basketball players, you can bet nine out of 10 of them would be very tall. A gathering of shot-put people would see most of them squat with broad shoulders. Archery people, I guess, tend to walk around with one eye closed and gymnasts could sit on a see-saw with a lettuce at the other end and hold their own.
But the joy of rugby is that it says: one in, all in! If you’re fat and slow, you can be a prop. Skinny and fast and you hate human contact of all kinds you can be on the wing; so egotistical you think the best way to change a light bulb is to hold it up and let the whole world revolve around you, you’re five-eighth. Tall and debonair with the heart of a lion, you’re in the second row. Five years old, you’re in the juniors, 80 years old and you’re in the Golden Oldies with purple shorts. Good player, you’re in the firsts, so-so player you’re in the sixths, just so long as you play. Girl, boy, man, woman, young, old, gay, straight, Caucasian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter – and all of that permeates the crowd that will be there at the Rugby World Cup.
So, yes, there will be the world’s best teams playing in New Zealand, but they aren’t the main game.”
On that note, let the greatest show on turf begin!
On Friday, September 9, host nation New Zealand will kick off the tournament in their Pool A clash with Tonga at the famous Eden Park stadium, in Auckland, at 8:30pm (NZ local time).