Shaping an exciting, relevant and accessible sport over the next decade was the key theme from the World Rugby Women’s Elite Shape of the Game Conference in Los Angeles this week.
With women and girls representing the biggest opportunity to grow rugby as a whole, the group of leaders from around the world considered how advances in welfare and enhancement of the spectacle can break new markets and inspire new audiences on the road to Rugby World Cup 2033. The conference heard how women’s rugby has a rapidly growing fanbase of 138 million fans of which 113 million have been following the sport for less than five years, with the potential to more than double over the next five years. Delegates also considered how to make rugby as entertaining as possible to unlock new markets and revenue growth. Revenue is projected to increase tenfold by 2033, equating to a four times growth in revenue per fan from today.
In attendace for the greater World Rugby meetings, USA Rugby COO Johnathan Atkieson said, "We've seen amazing growth of the women's rugby game globally in the last five years. These meetings help chart the path of global competition for the next decade, as we explore how the US can be a key figure in that path. It was fitting that these meetings were held in the US, as we want to become the hub of women's rugby activity ahead of Rugby World Cup 2033"
Players, coaches, match officials, medics, competition owners and fan-engagement experts considered the latest audience and playing trends, welfare research and technology innovations. The delegates then identified actions that could improve – fan experience, player experience and wellbeing – which World Rugby will now explore with stakeholders:
- Welfare: continued focus on smart mouthguards to gather essential player workload data in training and playing environments; more contact training guidance and game-wide adoption of women’s specific tackle and contact ready programs to drive injury-prevention .
- Fan experience: explore ways to ensure powerful personalities continue to shine, simpler terminology, technology, broadcast, and laws innovation can assist the sport extend its reach and engage with new audiences
- Innovation: trial the use of a women’s specific elite ball and explore law amendments that will enhance the unique characteristics of the women’s game
- Match officiating: embrace technology that can assist with quicker, accurate decision-making and increase pathways for women’s match officials World Rugby will conduct further research and prioritise changes that can be trialled and implemented in the short term without changing laws in the run up to Rugby World Cup 2025. It will also look to develop longer-term actions through to the next law review cycle beyond RWC 2025.
Alongside the Shape of the Game conference delegates spent two days discussing how to create a new and more harmonious global calendar for the elite women’s game from 2025 onwards. The global calendar workshop brought together the top 20 unions, regions, international and domestic competition representatives, players and coaches to consider how to deliver greater competitiveness, return on investment and set the scene for a period of unprecedented opportunity. Guiding principles agreed are:
- The calendar does not need to follow the men’s game
- The global calendar needs to meet player welfare, commercial, visibility and high-performance needs
- The global calendar should include defined international release periods, domestic competition windows, player rest and pre-season
- There should be greater opportunities for unions to host international matches
- The calendar should be simple, consistent and with a clear narrative
Two options are now being refined by stakeholders and it is anticipated that a final proposal will be presented to the World Rugby Council in October.
The productive week concluded with the women’s 15s high performance workshop, inspirational presentations, and a study tour. The aim of these workshops is to support unions with performance planning on and off the field on the road to Rugby World Cup 2025. World Rugby Chief of Women’s Rugby Sally Horrox said: “World Rugby’s mission is a global sport for all. Women and girls are at the heart of that mission. This week gave us the opportunity to look at rugby through the unique lens of the women’s game, and to do what is right for women.
“All stakeholders were united in wanting to develop a sustainable global and harmonized calendar for elite women’s rugby. One that meets player welfare, commercial and performance needs while also supporting the domestic game. “We have a clear mandate to act, in partnership with our unions, regions, clubs and competitions to unlock the potential of the women’s game. I would like to thank all participants for taking time out of their busy schedules to consider and help us to determine our future.”