RWC Build-Up: Does Superstardom Await?

3 days to go and the mounting pressure and rise in exposure is inescapable.

RWC 2011 kicks off on Friday with Tonga unleashing the Sipi Tau against the hosts, NZ, and suddenly we are made aware of every movement by every team, every day. It will continue like this throughout the tournament and at a time when every top tier nation is looking for recognition and respect we can only expect more scrutiny than ever before.

Whether we like it or not our romanticised notions of Rugby are challenged daily in 2011. We are shown footage of teams from all over the World. We can analyse the performances of teams gone by. We can hear about the specific breakdown of modern training techniques. We see everything.

During the first New Zealand World Cup, in 1987, the hosts beat France in the final to be the inaugural World Champions.

Nowadays this becomes significant. As the first ever tournament comparing the best from all over the planet it set the ball rolling in terms of professionalism. It showed the global rugby community that a single nation could be much better than everyone else and that in order to keep up you had to train like them, or become better than them.

More so than this, though, we have seen the level of coverage and the scope of understanding grow since then.

According to tourism sites New Zealand the 1987 Rugby World Cup was attended by 600,000 people, had a total cumulative average television audience of 230 million and raised about £1million surplus from television rights.

In 2011 there have been grumblings that the tournament has grown so large that New Zealand will struggle to break even, and with the prize money normally given to winners and quarter finalists onwards said to be shrinking there could be some unhappy New Zealanders as the game has blown up in popularity (one of the many reasons why the people of NZ demand victory!).

Cost breakdown was arranged before the tournament and is set as thus: “The agreement includes provisions that any profits from the Tournament will be shared on a 50/50 basis between the NZRU and the New Zealand Government, while any shortfall/losses on the Tournament will be met by a 1/3rd / 2/3rd split between the NZRU and the New Zealand Government respectively.”

Pressure on the All Blacks is bad enough, but because of the financial wizardry and misdirection behind the scenes the home team face anxiety few of us could comprehend.

Of course the growth in popularity that has led to this inversion of conventional logic has also lead to the explosion of marketability rugby has seen.

600,000 went to RWC 1987, but in 2007 approximately 2,240,000 people went, about 8,500 hours of rugby were broadcast (103 in 1987) and roughly a 4,200 million total cumulative average TV audience was logged. Expansion was the name of the game and in 20 years we witnessed a big step.

In 1995 Rugby saw the emergence of its first global superstar in Jonah Lomu. Since then, however, we have seen superstars emerge from all over the world and as we have seen more and more rugby we are now waiting for, arguably, the first tournament were we have several superstars all being marketed at once.

There is no Matt Giteau but we will have Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and, if the SRU media guys have their way, Richie Gray all setting off flashbulbs at the same tournament.

Each team will be looking to have their own names garnering global coverage and publicity. In May SportsPro stated “anticipated worldwide viewing figures of four billion” will be logged during RWC 2011. With estimates of 4 billion viewers and more TV time than 8,500 hours some unlucky fellas are going to be made very, very famous.

From a Scottish perspective, then, it is likely that they are hoping that the upturn in coverage, the canvassing of articles, diaries, videos and photos from their camp and the expectations of a quarter final place will show more of Scottish Rugby to the World. Maybe that is why we have hired a CEO with much marketing and advertising experience. We are hoping to capitalize on projections of popularity.

We must frantically keep up with the pace of coming events. We need to meet our expectations to make this World Cup a success. We are definitely capable of qualifying for a Quarter Final. The draw, however, has been lucky and unlucky for us, depending on how you look at it.

In a cynical, media and hype-driven world we would have wanted to start the tournament with a marquee name. In terms of progression, though, a game against a weaker team could also suit.

We know who we face in the rounds. It now appears that those at EH12 will also be hoping for a lot of face-time for our stars.

Check out STV’s Scottish RWC documentary(-ish) ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ tonight at 8pm (for some inexplicable reason the controllers put this on on a Tuesday night, when many of the Scottish rugby community’s younger members are out training. I know I can’t afford Sky/Virgin/council telly +).

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