The Rugby World Cup is starting – has anyone noticed?

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On Friday, the Rugby World Cup kicks off in New Zealand. Although it’s been fairly well publicised in the media, there hasn’t been anything like the frenzy that accompanies the football equivalent – which is slightly illogical, considering that the home nations tend to be more successful at rugby than we are at football!

I know rugby will never attract the same mass appeal that soccer does and there are various theories why this is. Some say the rules are just too complicated to understand and others see it as a game for toffs and ‘rugger buggers’. Football may be more popular, but I’d argue the so-called ‘Beautiful Game’ could learn a lot from rugby in PR terms.

Yes, rugby has had its fair share of scandals and PR problems – the most notable one being ‘Bloodgate’ in 2009 – but it doesn’t attract the criticism that football does on a regular basis. It’s well-known that rugby players have to address the referee as ‘sir’, ticket prices for games are reasonable and there’s no segregation on the terraces at matches, with a genuine camaraderie – if not respect – between rival fans.

There’ll be people who say it’s the confrontation and aggression that make football what it is, but it’s also a turn-off for many fans. Couple that with increasing ticket prices and I’d guess that many supporters will just stop going to games.

Football is our national sport and, even though rugby and cricket may enjoy spikes in popularity, that’s not going to change any time soon. There’s a lot football can do to engage with its fans more effectively. People complain about clubs being ‘out of touch’ and I think they’re right.

Every business knows the importance of listening to its target market and keeping its stakeholders happy. If you don’t, they’ll go elsewhere and the business of football is no different. With the World Cup – and a fantastic PR opportunity for the sport – about to begin, could rugby now be looking to win the affections of disillusioned football fans?