There's an old Japanese proverb which says "money grows on the tree of persistence".

As the Japanese nation prepares to host two of the big four sporting tournaments over the coming year, that tree looks set to bear plenty of fruit. This year's Rugby World Cup is expected to attract the largest numbers of spectators and supporters in the history of the tournament.

Organisers are expecting upwards of 400,000 foreign visitors to make the trip to Japan over the 44 days of the games. In all, it expects to attract up to 1.8 million fans.

It anticipates that this will translate into a direct economic impact of 437 billion Japanese yen, or €3.65 billion, based on calculations by EY on behalf of Japan Rugby 2019.

Japan has invested €300m in infrastructure developments in advance of the World Cup. Up to 25,000 jobs are estimated to have been created in the run in to the tournament. With the games being hosted in 12 cities across Japan, the economic benefit is expected to be shared across the country.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the EY report outlined the economic, social and sporting benefits of the Rugby World Cup.

"It reaffirms its low investment, high return attractiveness to future host governments and why the tournament is great for rugby and the host nation."

Some might quibble with the claim that the World Cup is "low investment".

Hosting the tournament is not without its expense, with an upfront fee of over €100m due to World Rugby for the pleasure of hosting the tournament. Then there's the inevitable cost of upgrade works to the stadiums where the games will take place as well as infrastructure upgrades that will likely arise as part of the planning phase. 

Is it worth it?

"The financial guarantee that will be sought by World Rugby for future tournaments is likely to be in the region of €150m," Rob Hartnett, chief executive of Sport for Business estimated. "That can be recouped through ticket sales and commercial partnerships".

He added: "There were 2.8 million tickets sold in England 2015. The English RFU made a surplus of €21m on the tournament".

So hosting the Rugby World Cup is an attractive proposition and, indeed, it's a much sought after enterprise, which Ireland has direct experience of, having bid for the games in 2023. (We lost out to France.) There was little surprise that Ireland did mount a bid for the games and will likely do so again. Rugby is big here business too.

According to its annual statement, the IRFU generated income of €85.6m in the 2018-19 financial year. More than half of the income comes from the international game, Hartnett said, with that take being boosted by the Guinness Six Nations last year.

The rest of the revenue is split between income from the Provincial game and commercial revenue. A major boost to the IRFU came in the form of confirmation that Vodafone was committing to another four year sponsorship deal estimated to be around €16m.

Sponsorship boost

Perhaps not a huge surprise that Vodafone renewed that deal given that half of the commercial entities surveyed by sponsorship industry specialists, Onside, agreed that the Rugby World Cup was an opportunity to engage with consumers in Ireland. That compares with 16% who held the same view of the FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer.

The overall value of the sponsorship market exceeded €200m last year, according to the group's figures, with sports - particularly rugby and GAA - seen as providing the top "growth opportunities" for sponsors.

"Rugby at all levels continues to be a major driving force keeping the momentum behind Irish sponsorship strong," John Trainor, founder and CEO of Onside said.
Rugby players lead the way in terms of marketable personalities with Johnny Sexton leading the way followed by Katie Taylor and Joe Schmidt.

"Other stars in the eyes of sponsors that will be to the fore in the consideration for brand ambassadorial campaigns are predominantly rugby players including Conor Murray, Rory Best, Peter O'Mahony and Jordan Lamour," Trainor said.

And there's the knock-on benefit of rugby to the wider economy.

A study carried out for the Dublin Chamber by the Smurfit Business School estimated that the Six Nations Rugby game between Ireland and England in March 2015 generated a €21.3m boost to the economy. The 15,000 travelling fans were estimated to have spent €11.5m. That breaks down to an average individual spend of €764 per person with the average length of stay at 2.6 nights.

Broadcast rights

And that just encapsulates the die hard fans who go to the games. Securing the rights to broadcast the tournament is one of the most sought after jewels in any broadcasting crown.

Eir sport and RTÉ have secured the rights to broadcast the Rugby World Cup games as part of a sub-licencing agreement. Eir will be the primary rights holder and will broadcast all 48 games live, including the Ireland games.

RTÉ has secured the rights to 14 games, including all the Irish games, the knockout stages and the final. The State broadcaster will broadcast the matches free-to-air on RTÉ 2 and on the RTÉ Player.

The price of securing the rights is not disclosed for commercial reasons, but it was reported that ITV secured the rights to the 2011 and 2015 tournaments for around £60m. Given the growth in popularity of the RWC since then, it would be safe to assume that the bidding price to secure rights would have risen substantially. 

Sports events like this are generally considered to be loss leaders for broadcasters. The sheer expense of securing the rights to broadcast them is rarely covered by the weight of advertising revenue that they bring in, despite such events being very lucrative on the advertising front.

For broadcasters like Sky and eir, it's not necessarily about maximising ad revenue. It's about attracting new customers to their platforms.

"Eir will recoup the money (it spent on acquiring the rights) through subscriptions, but primarily through gaining market share in broadband where customers get the sports pack free," Rob Hartnett said.

In addition, the broadcasting of sports and news events is still largely tied to television operators, especially in the subscription market. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have tended to avoid that end of the market. Sports events are among the last "appointment to view" offerings, which sponsors are very keen to capitalise on, according to John Trainor.

"The broadcasting of games on traditional media in another connection moment for sponsors and brands to align with the passion of rugby."

That's not to say that streaming services will not move into this market. Sky launched its TV Now streaming platform in recent years which offers customers the opportunity to watch special events by buying day or weekend passes.

"Streaming is more appealing to individual timetables and a personal viewing experience. Additional content and documentary style programming will become more popular but the live streaming through Facebook or on You Tube is more likely, possibly with a subscription payment or maybe funded through smart advertising," Hartnett anticipates.

Trainor says this is already happening. He cites the example of Munster and Leinster Rugby giving supporters and sponsors more opportunities for access to grassroots games via live streaming.

"While still in its infancy, we can expect in the next decade that these club based channels will become more significant to the commercial and marketing models employed by the rights holders.

"They will present more alternative ways of packaging sports programming and reel in wider audiences for their own club TV channels in an increasingly fragmented media market," he concluded.

For streaming services, the tree of persistence may bear considerable fruit in time.