Can Rugby Be Popular in China?

With the Rugby World Cup in Japan just a matter of months away, the sport is looking to break into new markets and expand its horizons to allow the sport to continue to evolve and grow and to take it to new audiences and build fan bases further afield.

In the past, the USA has been the number one target market, with fixtures being played across the Atlantic and some players from the national squad, the Eagles, coming across to play in the Premiership. China is being explored as the next potential big opportunity.

Profile Raising

Currently, there is not a big enough audience in China beyond expats living in the country and those willing to travel. Introducing the sport of rugby, and making it successful, will be a significant challenge. Not only is the country a vast geographical expanse, which throws up logistical issues, but there are big differences in terms of cultural sensitivities and influences across province or city level before national level is considered. A relatively simple thing like the name could cause issues: the name for ‘rugby’ is the same as the name for ‘American football’, so many people will not understand that there are two games, let alone understand the differences between the two.

Grass-Roots Programme

There will need to be investment over time across the whole spectrum, from the grass roots up, with the establishment of clubs and coaching being made available to schoolchildren. Regular coaching and rugby training drills specially designed by companies like will be required, and an integrated approach with more visibility and promotion across TV channels. With both free and subscription services available, brokering deals with the right channels will make a huge difference.

For more information on rugby in China, visit the Chinese rugby union website.

With Hong Kong such a popular destination on the 7s circuit, there are clues that rugby could be successful, though there is still a lot of work to do. Naturally, there is a potential commercial gain, though not doing the right research upfront could cost in terms of wasted capital and investment. Successfully launching rugby into China will be a long game, and Premiership Rugby will have to be prepared for that and ready to make cultural concessions in order to make it work.