Twickenham hosts Pumas as rugby chases global fan base

Australia beat "home" team Argentina in a historic Rugby Championship clash at Twickenham.

Story highlights

  • Rugby broadens its horizons in UK
  • London hosts southern hemisphere game
  • Australia beats Argentina 33-21

(CNN)New ground was broken this past weekend when Australia and Argentina collided at Twickenham, the home of Six Nations champion England, as the Rugby Championship made a loud statement of intent.

Rugby's landscape is changing quickly, and the sport's globalization offers tournament organizers an opportunity to stimulate financial growth for their competition.
    SANZAAR, the body that oversees both the Rugby Championship international tournament contested by South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, permitted the Pumas to schedule one of their home games in London.
    Argentina fans gather outside of Twickenham ahead of Saturday's game against Australia.
    It could well set a trend as rugby looks to move outside its traditional territories.
    "Our core markets remain important, but we could expand into Asia yes, there might be a chance to play Rugby Championship games there, and there's the possibility of the Americas too," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos told CNN ahead of Saturday's game.
    When asked if more encounters could be played on European soil, Marinos said: "It's too early to tell, but I think you'll always be looking at that, as we look to globalize the sport, grow the brand and its popularity."
    And, from the early signs it looks like it went fairly well.
    Over 48,000 tickets were sold at a ground that can hold 82,000 people, as fans enjoyed the seven-try spectacle, which ultimately saw the Australian Wallabies prevail 33-21. It was more than double the attendance Argentina attracted for its two previous home matches in the competition, held at the 50,000-capacity Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
    Crucially the fixture afforded Argentina the chance to pocket its biggest gate takings of the season. A conservative estimate on ticket sales would be $3 million.
    "Of course it's not like playing at home with the Argentinian crowd supporting like we are used to," Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade admitted in the post-match press conference.
    "However today I have to say we had a very good crowd and at moments we felt like locals because of the crowd support."
    His Australian counterpart Michael Chieka was equally positive, saying: "You can't say much poor about 48,000 people coming to a game between two neutrals at a venue here. People spoke with their feet."
    It's not the first time countries have sought to penetrate new markets to boost revenues. New Zealand has been a trailblazer on this front, having played the Wallabies in Hong Kong, while next the world champion All Blacks -- who are 17-games undefeated -- will return to the US to play Ireland in Chicago.
    Soldier Field welcomed 61,500 fans -- a record for a rugby match in the US -- when the American Eagles hosted New Zealand in 2014.
    North America is the biggest sports market in the world, valued at $60 billion in 2015 by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), so it's smart for the All Blacks to venture forth into the land of opportunity.
    The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region is the second largest in the world, valued at $49 billion by PWC. The United Kingdom, and in particular London, is being aggressively pursued by sporting heavyweights like the NFL and NBA.
    The NFL has averaged attendances of 83,000 for the regular-season games its teams have played in the capital city's Wembley Stadium over the past 10 years, as international expansion is a key to achieving its goal of breaking $25 billion by 2027.
    Currently, the league rakes in $13 billion a season and is the richest in the world.
    The NBA, meanwhile, is slightly half that value as it brings in $5.2 billion annually, and has had its franchises play in front of sold-out arenas in London regularly since 2011.
    Marinos has taken note of the impact foreign leagues have had in the UK.
    "The NFL have successfully grown their brand in the UK market," he said.
    "During the Rugby World Cup (in 2015) there were two semifinals taking place in London, and on the same weekend an NFL game in the city. Everything was at capacity, all the games were sold out, which showed how strong the consumer base is," Marinos said.
    Throw in approximately 425,000 Australians residing in the UK, along with 200,000 South Africans and an additional 59,000 New Zealanders and 12,000 Argentines, and the Rugby Championship has a hungry expat market waiting to feast on its product, let alone any newcomers who might want to join the party.
    The Southern Hemisphere rugby superpowers have made their play, and it's clear they are prepared to scrum down with local and international leagues as they stake their claim in the north to secure their slice of this highly-profitable commercial market.