Arsenal and the RLWC – Can Football Help to Unlock Rugby’s Popularity?

The sports of football and rugby are inherently different, both in terms of  gameplay and the respective histories of each discipline.

Not only is football is much more fluid and higher octane than Rugby Union, for example, but this sport alsos has a working-class heritage that contrasts sharply with rugby’s origins as wealthier, middle-class discipline.

Recently, however, Arsenal helped to bridge the gap between football and the Rugby League code, while raising the issue of whether the former can unlock the potential of Rugby Union among a global audience.

Bringing Rugby League to the Emirates Stadium

The recent Rugby League World Cup in England was a huge success, thanks partly to the fact that it visited the length and breadth of the country and took in an impressive 21 venues.

While many of these were established Rugby League venues, Arsenal’s very own Emirates Stadium also hosted group stage action and the second men’s semi-final, with the former representing the first ever time that the ground had showcased a sport other than football.

Elsewhere in London, the Copper Box Arena hosted Group A of the Wheelchair RLWC, with teams including England, Australia, Ireland and Spain competing in this section of the tournament.

By bringing premium international action to the Emirates Stadium and other areas of London, organisers were able to popularise Rugby League across new audiences.

After all, while the sport remains inherently popular in the north of England, it has yet to achieve the same levels of viewership, engagement and acclaim in London and south of the border.

Make no mistake; this is the best way of promoting a sport or discipline and directly engaging broader audiences, and ultimately driving increased participation and viewership rates across the globe.

Can Rugby Union also Learn from Football?

Rugby Union is a different case in point, with the code of Rugby League at least sharing working-class roots and origins with football.

Due in part to the middle and upper-class nature of Rugby Union, this sport has always sought to maintain a moral high ground over disciplines like football, but this is something that the former has to change if it’s to evolve and achieve its full potential globally.

Later this year, the Rugby World Cup 2023 takes place in France, with this tournament set to break all TV and in-person viewership records as organisers make fan engagement a leading priority.

However, the sport’s showpiece tournament regularly attracts considerably less viewers than the FIFA World Cup and even the cricket alternative, so much more must be done to make Rugby Union more popular globally.

Obviously, the complex and occasionally stop-start nature of the sport puts it at a natural disadvantage, but it may want to follow Rugby League’s example by reaching out to football fans and a much broader sporting audience.

This will essentially put Rugby Union in front of a new and open-minded audience, potentially creating additional demographics of fans both at home and overseas.

This, in conjunction with a successful World Cup 2023 in France, could create significant momentum behind Rugby Union and afford it a level of global popularity that the sport arguably deserves.