Rugby needs a new audience …

As is our want on a Thursday morning, a sneak preview of Tank Lanning’s Sport24 column …

Tank Lanning

The Currie Cup is made from pretty stern stuff … And I am not just talking about the actual vessel that carries the victor’s cold beer come the final toward the end of October!

The introduction of Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations inflicted the first dents on the domestic tournament, then it took a blow to the solar plexus with Super Rugby being extended to the monstrosity that it is today, and then direct hit to the jaw via the introduction of Argentina to see the Rugby Championship come to fruition, meaning that the Boks don’t play any Currie Cup rugby any more.

But this jaw is not made of glass. Repucom released some TV viewership numbers this week stating that the cumulative audience of all live broadcasts this year stands at 4 197 046 viewers, which represents  an impressive increase of 31.8% on the 2011 numbers, and perhaps more importantly, equal to the growth in total available audience.

710 253 people watched the Bulls play the Sharks and both peak and highest average audience numbers are up. Which is pretty damn impressive given how hard the powers that be have tried to seemingly cull the grand old dame of SA rugby …

But dig a little deeper into the demographics of said TV viewers, along with the fact that there are without doubt less bums on seats at the actual venues, and that is when the red flags start appearing.

Your rugby TV viewer remains an older, white, Afrikaans speaking male. Repucom’s numbers suggest that 62% are male, 84% are white, 68% are over the age of 35, and 64% are Afrikaans speaking. Basically describing the so called “Pale male” so obviously on the decline in SA.

And with only 9% of the audience being between the ages of 15 and 24, and 14% being between 25 and 34, where are the future viewers of rugby going to come from?

Will TV remain the primary way to consume sport?

New research out from Google suggests otherwise. The study found that users are watching TV on average for 43 minutes per session – still the most of any screen – but 77% of that time we are simultaneously using another device. 17 minutes on a smart phone, 30 minutes on tablets, and 39 minutes on PCs to be precise.

Sure that is in the US, but people aged between 15 and 34 are likely to be the “Early adopters” and thus the first group in SA to be getting their rugby fix away from the TV.

I certainly cannot remember when I last watched a game without either my phone or iPad on my lap interacting with people on Twitter …

Speaking directly to this, had the following to say about sports media giant ESPN: “Through dozens of TV, Web, and mobile platforms, ESPN shapes the ways in which leagues, teams, and athletes are packaged, promoted, marketed, and consumed by the public. In a real sense, ESPN no longer covers sports. It controls sports.”

And with money SuperSport pumps into SA rugby for the rights to our various tournaments, they too have enormous control over the sport. Hence the scheduling of games at 19h00 on a Saturday. An atrocious time to be at a stadium, and no doubt a reason for the empty seats, but a prime TV slot. And TV money wins that battle …

Perhaps as SuperSport moves toward catering to a more diversified multiscreen audience (something they are already doing via the web, iPhone and iPad apps), and as marketers take cognisance of said new audience, we could see a return to a more normal 15h00 kickoff and bigger stadium crowds?

That said, perhaps this crowd prefers (or can only afford) to watch at a pub, at a mates house, or with their folks … Or perhaps they really do not give a toss about rugby? Either way, I would suggest that the popularity of rugby is in their hands, and that both SARU and SuperSport look into it.


  1. Great article and agree with your points about the viewership. Interesting comment about ESPN controlling sport and no longer really promoting it! Seems like SA could use a few ideas from ESPN on how to attract the younger generation into the sport. In order to attract this generation, you need to be infront of them in terms of media -be it twitter, facebook, pinterest, google+ – these are the areas they gather content – they are a content gathering generation who will go to any length to get the information they want – so give it to them in a perfect bundle be it SuperSport Tablet App, or even SARU developing an interactive App for mobile and tablet – this is where you get infront of these guys and where you can start to get the younger generation involved.

    1. Agreed Andrew. And to SuperSport’s credit, they have developed a “Second Screen” app for the ipad, which is pretty good. Uptake has been slow though, given the penetration. SARU and SS both pretty good on social media, so they are giving it a go … Just think it needs to be less ra ra and more content based

  2. Nice article. A few points if I may.

    The statistician in me has a problem with the growth of 31.8%. That is massive and must either be an aberration or the result of one predominant cause. Could be the World Cup in 2011. Either way it needs clarification from you.

    Too much detail in the numbers for your readers. Is the average or the peak number the important one? What the hell is % audience loyalty and does it matter? You should be filtering it and giving us the conclusion and then your opinion.

    Oh, and the headline at Sport24 was always going to bring out the political response. It’s not as if they need any encouragement over there.

    TV and internet are merging technologies anyway. Perhaps not yet in SA where the cost of data is still too high but that only affects when, not if.

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