Rugby World Cup provides lesson in scarcity value

Just over a week into the Rugby World Cup, Ireland beat Australia to provide the first major shock of the tournament. The stakes are particularly high because the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport and only takes place every four years.

There are plenty of international rugby matches – arguably too many – but the primacy of the World Cup is clear to all, whether players, governing bodies, sponsors, media or fans. There are some other sports which would benefit from similar clarity.

Rugby fans will recall that Ireland and Australia have had memorable encounters at previous Rugby World Cups. In two of their four matches, Australia won by a single point (1991 and 2003). Australia and Ireland have played each other once a year on average over the last 15 years, including a notable 20-20 draw in 2009, but it is the World Cup games which stick in the memory.

Similarly, today’s Welsh victory over Samoa has added significance because Samoa have twice beaten Wales at previous World Cups, a fact mentioned in most of the match reports (see, for example the Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald). Actually, Wales and Samoa have played five other matches over the years, the details of which I suspect few people can recall.

The addition of Rugby 7s to the Olympic programme in 2016 will provide a challenge to the Rugby World Cup and some of the top players may be tempted to specialise in 7s but ultimately it is sufficiently different from the 15 a side game not to be a direct threat. It will also provide a higher profile platform for the women’s game.

While other sports, ranging from football to cricket, athletics and tennis have a fairly clear hierarchy of tournaments, the competition between the the biggest events in each sport risks devaluing them all. For example, while the four Grand Slam tournaments are the highlight of the tennis calendar, both men’s and women’s tennis have end of season events for the top eight players in the world with big prize money on offer. The Davis Cup and Fed Cup are also in the mix and then there is the Olympic tournament.

Although it is natural for international federations to want to have a full calendar of major events, there is value in recognising and protecting the real highlights. This becomes more difficult when there are different rightsholders for major tournaments (such as FIFA, UEFA, other continental associations and the big national leagues in football).

Protecting the scarcity value of the top events matters for athletes, who risk burnout, and all of the stakeholders including the sponsors and fans who ultimately foot the bills. Greater focus on existing prime properties may be a better strategy for sports to grow than increasing the number of matches and tournaments. After all, sporting history is worth paying for, meaningless international matches are not.

When the Rugby World Cup final arrives on 23 October everybody from players through to fans will know that this is a genuine piece of sporting history.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Add a comment