Rugby’s Race to Catch Up with Social Media

Rugby’s Race to Catch Up with Social Media

The showdown of the rugby union season came to a somewhat un dramatic close on the 26th May, in a repeat game of the 2015-16 Premiership final between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, where the North London club took the title for the third time in four years.

Social media has engulfed the world of sport in its ever-changing landscape, transforming fan and player engagement. But while sporting stars, clubs and bodies have all joined the social media bandwagon, rugby appears to lag behind.

There are strong indicators that the social following in rugby is an anomaly amongst other mainstream sports. Take Dan Carter, a player many claim to be the world’s best rugby player of his time: his twitter following sits at just 631K.

Compare him to Ronaldo who, with an enormous 73.5 million followers on Twitter and 128 million on Instagram, is the most followed athlete on Instagram. Lionel Messi also boasts an impressive Instagram following of 92.7 million followers while his Twitter feed, although not a personal account, was created by him in collaboration with Adidas as a celebration of him and his work.

Is this just evidence to suggest that rugby is an international game and football is a global one?

The likes of Kobe Bryant, Virat Kohli, Rory Mcllroy and Serena Williams, all legends in their respective sports have a combined total of over 53 million twitter followers, proving that a whole range of sportsmen and women have encroached the million mark.

How then, are rugby players lagging so far behind other sportspeople when you consider how, with slower sports such as golf or cricket, you need to dedicate a whole weekend to see out the end of the competition?

There could be an argument that video content, so prevalent on today’s social media platforms, is harder to use in rugby – its problem being that that some of the nicest play comes in the buildup to a try as opposed to the try itself. This doesn’t seem to be the case however. Golf and cricket followers are in their millions on both player and tournament platforms and clipping content for either sport is as quick as a sublime putt or a fast wicket.

Perhaps that is why Rugby 7’s is fast becoming a popular sport. Twickenham saw the penultimate tournament of the World Rugby 7’s Series occur last weekend and with its quick pace and high scoring matches, the Twitter feed was jam packed with links to live feeds and videos of all the tries, conversions and penalties.

The open space in 7’s prompts a plethora of tries and reduced contact. The structure of the game certainly lends itself to social media more than its 15s counterpart.

It’s safe to say that rugby is trailing behind other sports in both its fan following and fan engagement and the personalities in the sport just don’t seem to have a large enough fan base. It’s certainly something that should be cause for concern when you consider the rugby world cup is just over a year away.