3 !{ArticleDetails-ReadTime} 13 Jan 2020
USA rugby fans pose with flag

How to activate a new sporting fan base

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Jim Doucette

EY Americas Advisory Strategy Leader

Business strategist. Consumer behavior professional. Passionate about helping clients, developing people and building teams.

3 !{ArticleDetails-ReadTime} 13 Jan 2020

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Rugby already has strong followers in the US. Now, USA Rugby (USAR) wants to make them fans of the US Rugby team as well.

Rugby has long enjoyed a reputation as a sport that emphasizes participation and competition, with a strong focus on fellowship both on and off the pitch. This strong sense of camaraderie is one reason why it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the US, with some 40 million people saying they follow the sport, according to USAR.     

“We have a great opportunity here,” says Mark Griffin, USAR Commercial Director, “to turn these rugby fans into fans of US Rugby.” For Griffin, a first step toward achieving that goal is to activate USAR’s membership of 300,000 people and then tap its 750,000-person contact list of rugby enthusiasts.

While this presents a strong foundation for growth, Griffin and his counterparts on the USAR board also realize that if they are going to position rugby for long-term growth, they need to compete for attention in a crowded US sports market. In addition to the major sports, young people are drawn to other non-traditional sports, such as lacrosse, fencing, rowing and, to an increasing degree, e-sports.

Moreover, consumers are spending increasing time on digital platforms and seeking more personalized on-demand content. Indeed, many millennials and GenZ consumers routinely access sports news and highlights through their phones as the traditional broadcast interface between sports and fans undergoes a massive generational shift.  A great example of how the sports world is commercializing this shift is the work that Velon and EY have done to create a first-class digital platform so that fans can engage directly with the sport of cycling.

To address this challenge, USAR is pursuing a strategy that would focus on growing the sport by combining traditional approaches, such as building local programs while also finding new ways to engage fans through digital experiences such as videos and social media.

During the meetings, all the USAR leaders spent a long time talking about how e-sports emerged as a major force virtually overnight. They could see that digital engagement would play a huge role in making rugby more accessible to young consumers.
Mark Griffin
USAR Commercial Director

USAR also recognized that it needed to improve its governance model. Many stakeholders praised the organization’s passion for advancing the sport, but they also said the national organization was spread too thin and tried to do everything on its own.

To address that, the national organization will focus on providing a cohesive strategy for growing the sport and empower local organizations to take on a more active role in certain areas, such as encouraging local youth programs in areas that have large numbers of rugby followers.

“Everyone in USA Rugby is dedicated to advancing this tremendous sport,” says Griffin, “but we also realize that we can’t be all things to all people. We need to develop local hotbeds that embrace rugby and then use those as springboards to reach out to more people.”

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Rugby has long enjoyed a reputation as a sport that emphasizes participation and competition, with a strong focus on fellowship both on and off the pitch. This strong sense of camaraderie is one reason why it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the US, with some 40 million people saying they follow the sport.   

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Jim Doucette

EY Americas Advisory Strategy Leader

Business strategist. Consumer behavior professional. Passionate about helping clients, developing people and building teams.