MELBOURNE, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Rugby is suffering from declining crowds, ratings and interest in the crowded Australian sports market, local media reported on Monday, citing market research commissioned by the game’s administrators.
Crowds for test matches had fallen from 617,555 in 2006 to 386,287 this year, or more than 37 percent, while attendances at Super 14 matches had dropped from 115,317 to 75,393 in the same period, the Australian newspaper said, citing the report commissioned by the Australian Rugby Union.
“Watching rugby is one of the easier engagement activities, yet we’ve been losing eyeballs for tests since 2006 and for the first time Super rugby in 2009,” the paper quoted an excerpt of the report as saying.
Rugby competes with Australian rules, rugby league and soccer for hearts and wallets in the country’s saturated sports market, and was losing out in most measures.
The research, tracking the game’s ‘brand health’ for the March-June quarter, said rugby was the least entertaining, innovative, grass roots-orientated and social of the four codes and cricket.
“Rugby’s brand equity (brand image statements) is diluted by both soccer and cricket with no one attribute being owned by rugby,” the report said.
“Bluntly put, consumers are not passionate about rugby. They favour AFL (Australian rules) and NRL (National Rugby League), which tend to be more tribal. Disconcertingly, even our passionates are turning away.
“So overall, rugby has the poorest health, but the main areas of disadvantage are in passion and salience (advertising recall) versus other sports.”
Awareness of rugby union advertising had declined 13 percent among sports enthusiasts over the past three years, while rugby union membership had fallen 14 per cent from 32,837 to 28,027 over the past year. Participation dropped two per cent from 193,382 in 2006 to 183,810 in 2008, it said.
The report noted that interest in all sports had declined, but said rugby was regarded as “exclusive and hard to follow,” and there was a need to educate viewers on the rules and how to follow the game.
The research would be used to shape the ARU’s marketing strategy next year.
“Leveraging rugby’s rich tradition and heritage we will rekindle the relevance of rugby among the evolving Australian sporting fan,” it said.
The damning report comes as Australia vies with South Africa to form the 15th Super rugby side for the expanded competition in 2011.
Australia has four teams in the southern hemisphere competition, compared to New Zealand and South Africa’s five, but none of its teams made the playoffs this season, prompting concerns about the country’s player depth.
Doubts have also been raised about the proposed base of the team in the southern city of Melbourne, where Australian rules dominates the market.
An ARU spokesman confirmed the newspaper report, but declined to provide a copy of the research.
“It’s a confidential document. In terms of the ARU dealing with the challenges ahead, that’s precisely what we’re doing. Dealing with the challenges ahead,” the spokesman said.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org