Rugby Union is one of the biggest sports in the world. Despite that, there have been a lot of questions about the long-term future of Rugby Union.
Is Rugby Union in Decline? Yes, at the moment it seems like Rugby Union is in Decline. The sport has seen participation numbers dwindling massively, while the viewership numbers are also not going in the right direction at the moment.
Rugby Union is a very popular sport across the world. In countries like England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa the sport is very popular. But despite millions of fans still enjoying the game, Rugby Union is in decline at the moment.
There are a few key indicators which highlight that Rugby Union is in decline. One of the main ones is that participation numbers are not increasing at the moment. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, participation numbers for Rugby were pretty low for a couple of year anyway.
But what we have seen is that those numbers have not gotten close to the pre covid numbers. Participation numbers are continuing to go down and so we can say that the number of people playing rugby is certainly in decline.
One of the other things which shows Rugby Union is in Decline is that viewership numbers are not moving in the right direction. Viewership is not particularly high for some of the biggest competitions in the world and Rugby is struggling to compete with sports that are better for TV audiences.
There have been a few clear signs over the past 18 months that Rugby Union is in decline in England. In the past couple of years, four professional rugby teams have folded in England alone. It is not just the newer teams, with London Wasps one of the team’s that went into administration in 2022.
2023 has claimed London Irish as well as Championship winners Jersey Reds. Financially, the game is definitely in decline at the moment as professional team’s are struggling to survive. There are lots of professional rugby teams who are not making enough money at the moment and are struggling to survive because of it.
Not all of rugby is in decline. The 2023 Rugby World Cup has shown that there are countries where rugby is growing. Team’s like Portugal, Chile and Namibia have shown that there are large countries where rugby is growing and certainly not in decline.
In fact, if you look across the entire world then there has been a slight increase in participation levels. That is mainly down to emerging rugby nations as well as the women’s game growing massively. So in the major rugby countries we might be seeing men’s rugby decline, Rugby Union as a sport might not necessarily in decline at the moment.
Is Rugby Union growing in popularity?
While the landscape of rugby looks bad at the moment, there are actually a few different metrics which are positive about rugby at the moment.
Rugby Union is growing at the moment according to a few different metrics. One of the interesting things is that in terms of rugby around the world, participation levels have increased in the last 12 months.
This might surprise a few different people, as participation levels have been declining in some of the major rugby countries. What is making the participation numbers increase is that the women’s game is growing massively at the moment, while there is also a big increase of rugby emerging nations.
These two big drivers mean that there are more people playing rugby that in the previous year. It is difficult to say whether rugby is growing in popularity as a whole, because there are lots of other factors which make it look like rugby is in decline at the moment.
But due mainly to rugby participation as a whole increasing, it would not be ridiculous at the moment to say that Rugby Union is growing in popularity.
Why is Rugby in decline?
Rugby Union as a sport is in decline at the moment. There are quite a few different factors which show the sport is not heading in the right direction. As you might expect, there are a few good reasons for rugby union being in decline.
One of the main reasons for rugby being in decline at all levels is the concerns around the safety of the sport. Head injuries are becoming much more of a concern to players from all sorts of different sports. In rugby, there is a big risk of head injuries because of how physical the sport is.
With information around head injuries growing, more players are deciding to focus on their health and step away from the game. It is also becoming a problem in kids rugby, as parents don’t want their kids to play rugby because of how dangerous the sport is. This means there are not enough young players coming up through the ranks playing rugby.
As participation numbers are struggling, it is clear that this is a big reason for rugby declining, particularly in the countries where the sport was very popular. People are instead looking to sports that are not as dangerous.
This does not necessarily explain why rugby is declining at a professional level. There are a few different reasons for rugby declining at a professional level. One of the main ones is that the sport does not always do a good job to cater towards TV audiences and people who grow up watching the game.
There are not enough personalities for fans to engage with in rugby. The reason why sports like Football and Formula One have increased in popularity over the last few years is that fans have personalities that they engage with and want to follow the sport because of that.
Rugby needs to find a way to produce a better TV product, as well as giving fans role models to look up to and support every week. As they are not doing this at the moment, it is one of the reasons why rugby is in decline at the moment.