Rugby attendances: Are they growing or in decline?
by Tim Rollason
Sportcal Events analysed the attendances of 11 selected club and international rugby competitions across 2018 and 2019 to understand which competitions saw increased attendance figures and which competitions are seeing a decline in spectator numbers.
10th July 2019, 15:06
A total attendance of 9,864,051 was registered across the seven club and international rugby competitions that took place during the 2018-19 or 2019 season. Moreover, four club and international rugby competitions, of which the respective 2019 competitions are still in progress, achieved attendances of 6,614,172 during the 2018 season. This brings the total attendance across the 11 analysed competitions to 16,478,223. 

Total attendances across 2018 & 2019 selected rugby competitions

The French Top 14 achieved the highest total attendance during the 2018-19 season with 2,734,738, which accounted for 28 per cent of all attendances analysed in 2019. However, this was bettered by the NRL Premiership’s 3,257,368 total attendance recorded in 2018, which was a 2.29 per cent increase on the previous edition in 2017. 

The English Premiership followed, the 12-team competition was played across 132 regular season matches and 3 post-season games over the 2018-19 season. The English Premiership achieved a total attendance of 1,956,443 to rank third overall of all analysed properties and second overall of the 2018-19 season properties. The English Premiership comprised 20.6 per of the 9,032,827 total regular season attendances. The 2018-19 season represented a second season of declining attendances for the English Premiership after achieving a record attendance of 2,081,353 during the 2016-17 season.

Regular and post season attendance in 2019 & 2018 (selected competitions)

 

French D2, the second tier French domestic league, saw 1,357,695 spectators over the course of the 2018-19 season. The league also featured the most fixtures of any property analysed with 246 matches played over the course of the season.  

The Pro 14, which in 2017 expanded from 12 to 14 domestic clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales saw its attendance decline by 53,251 on the previous edition, although the league’s attendances stayed above the 1.3 million mark.

The annual Six Nations Championship recorded the highest average attendance of all analysed properties, with 65,008 spectators per game across its 15 matches in 2019. Similarly, the only other international competition analysed, the 12-match Rugby Championships, had the second highest average attendance of 34,418 which was achieved in 2018.

Of the club competitions that took place in 2019, rugby union properties were next highest when comparing the average attendances. The English Premiership saw an average of 14,083 attendees across its 132 regular season games, followed by 13,881 for the French Top 14 and 13,061 for the continental European Rugby Champions Cup, whose attendances have grown for the third year in a row.

The NRL Premiership saw its average attendances grow once again in 2018 to 15,260 across its 192 games, while the Super League, the top-tier English rugby league competition, secured average attendances of 8,542 in 2018, which was considerably lower than its domestic rugby union counterpart.

Regular season attendances year-on-year comparison

Of the five selected 2019 club and international rugby competitions, regular season attendances marginally declined by 0.7 per cent during 2019.

The European Rugby Challenge Cup, the second-tier continental championship, grew its attendance by 15.74 per cent compared to 2018. While its top-tier equivalent, the European Rugby Champions Cup, saw its attendances increase by 2.24 per cent.

The Pro 14 saw the largest decline in regular season attendances with 70,770 fewer spectators contributing to a 5.90 per cent decline in attendance compared to 2018. The English Premiership also saw a small decline with 22,128 less spectators across its 132 regular season games compared to 2018.

Regular competition attendances year-on-year comparison

 

Comparing the 2018 club and international competition data to 2017, spectator attendances also declined by 4.59 per cent. Although, two of the four analysed competitions saw an attendance increase compared to the previous year.

The Rugby Championship, which is competed by international teams from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa saw an additional 44,693 spectators attend matches resulting in a 12.13 per cent increase on the 2017 edition.

Growth / decline in regular season attendances of rugby competitions 2019 versus 2018

 

In 2018, Super Rugby saw the largest decline in attendances compared to the previous season of all rugby properties analysed. The league recorded a 20.81 per cent reduction in attendances. However, at the start of the 2018 season SANZAAR, the governing body for Super Rugby, reduced the number of competing teams from 18 to 15 due to a lack of competitiveness in a number of matches. Further analysis of Super Rugby attendances will be needed following the final of the 2019 season to understand if Super Rugby is growing its regular season attendances.

This article is driven by the Sportcal Events intelligence service. For more information on how to access the Sportcal Events service, please contact