While some sports, like football, seem to continue to grow only larger as time goes on, even attracting more gender equality in competition and funding as time goes on, not all sports are having the same luck. One that has seen some rough times, as of late, has been the perennial favourite niche sport of the nation, rugby. What’s the state of rugby, and why are people fighting so hard for it?
The TV crisis
The latest turmoil to hit the rugby world has been largely down to the debate of how it is televised. Traditionally broadcast on Freeview channels, the waning popularity of the sport recently saw this position put in jeopardy. The major concern was that moving rugby to more exclusive, paid premium channels would cause its popularity to dwindle even further since fewer people would be able to watch it. It has been agreed by ITV and BBC that the Six Nations, at least, would continue to be aired on Freeview for the next four years. However, this relatively short-term deal still puts the future of the sport, at least in terms of how it is televised, up in the air. As such, rugby fans are concerned about the future of engagement with the sport.
The online face of rugby
Like every sport, rugby’s relationship with its fans has been very much re-defined by how it exists in the digital space of the internet, now. A dedicated fanbase has seen the rise of a range of sites, stat-tracking platforms, fantasy leagues, as well as podcasts and new media ventures into covering the sport more closely. There are specialized sources for all manner of rugby-related trivia, including historical looks back at some of the best games and covering all of the big rugby hits for those dramatic moments. As such, while rugby may not be doing as well it has in terms of traditional media, there could be a new future for it in the digital landscape.
A changing of the times
One of the big problems that rugby has had is in its nature of being such a traditionally run sport. Rugby Union and League are both run by very well established powers, leading it to become relatively constrained within a small number of player nations who show no signs of relinquishing that power. However, there is a growing rugby presence in terms of amateur participation in countries like Japan and Argentina. With the increasing prevalence of cerebral trauma in talking about contact sports nowadays, there are also concerns about how dangerous rugby can be and the potential for it to become a safer sport if it wants to appeal to a broader audience. However, this argument has its fair share of detractors, as well.
Rugby is not likely to go anywhere just yet and the increase in amateur support for it across multiple nations may even help it grow in the future. However, there’s no denying that this future is uncertain, so it requires the fans to be loud and not just on the pitch.