This Saturday sees the culmination of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Queensland, as hosts Australia take on England. It is the first time since the 1995 tournament took place that England will appear in the final of the showpiece event (under the guise of Great Britain), and 45 years since they last lifted the trophy.
Despite taking place over 10,000 miles away in Australia, the World Cup certainly has an impact on the nation’s sporting consciousness. Thanks to the coverage provided by the BBC, the tournament has attracted nearly 7m cumulative TV viewers to date, even with England’s last two matches taking place in the early hours of the morning for UK fans. A combination of regular lunchtime and evening highlights have helped keep rugby league fans engaged throughout the tournament – and through the reach of the BBC, many more are able to follow the sport through the free-to-air coverage.
According to Nielsen Sport data, interest in the sport of Rugby League in the UK has risen steadily since the tournament started in late October. This appears to be more prevalent amongst a younger demographic, with interest in the sport among the 16-24 rising from 41% pre-tournament to 46% as we go into the week of the final. The tournament has also seen interest in the sport of Rugby League grow outside of the traditional northern heartlands with London seeing a 6% growth in interest from 45% to 51%. This suggests that the international game is certainly a key driver for the growth of the sport within this region.
Regardless of the result this Saturday, the tournament has provided a springboard for England as they are set to host the next edition of the tournament in 2021. Not only has awareness of England being the host nation increased over the duration of the tournament, but those who would consider attending a 2021 World Cup match has also risen compared to the start of the tournament from 25% of the UK population to 30%.