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Rugby Football Union

The Rugby Football Union is the national governing body for grassroots and elite rugby union in England. Its purpose is to enrich lives, introduce more people to rugby union and develop the sport for future generations.

Background

The Rugby Football Union is the national governing body for grassroots and elite rugby union in England. Its purpose is to enrich lives, introduce more people to rugby union and develop the sport for future generations.

Seeking to address concerns about the declining popularity of rugby union among young people compared to other sports and older generations, the RFU embarked on a mission to stabilise and potentially reverse this trend. As such, Savanta were commissioned to uncover the best route forward.

The Challenge

In particular, the client needed to understand if the downward trend was being driven by issues with acquisition or with retention. Savanta was commissioned to resolve this challenge, by answering the following research question:

“How can Rugby Union maintain relevance for those aged 10 to 18 in the next decade?”

By answering this pivotal question, Savanta aimed to provide the RFU with an in-depth understanding of how rugby union can not only be relevant but also endure among 10 to 18-year-olds.

Our approach

Savanta conducted a comprehensive research programme which included:

Surveying 2,227 10 to 18-year-olds in England, using boosts for rugby union players, lapsed players, and BAME youth.

Data collected from the survey was used to run a tree model segmentation, based on levels of physical activity, attitudes towards sports, and engagement with rugby union. Nine segment profiles were identified, with four being selected as priority segments of focus for acquisition and retention. Digging a little deeper, six engaging and interactive online focus groups were held. These sessions were specifically designed to match the profiles of the priority segments, featuring entertaining activities and projective tasks.

Research findings were presented in workshops at Twickenham and online, involving RFU stakeholders, which sparked productive conversations on implementing recommendations within retention and acquisition plans. Presenting the data to stakeholders not only facilitated engagement in a collaborative conversation about the implications of the work but also encouraged them to ask questions about the provided recommendations.

The outcome

The research identified a pool of young people who did not currently play Rugby Union that would be interested in trying full-contact rugby. We were also able to assess how impactful non-contact rugby might be as a pathway into the sport, an alternative to full-contact, and as a way to prevent individuals lapsing out of the game altogether.

The research was also able to provide recommendations about how to keep Rugby Union relevant to young people as they transition from school and college, to university, work and young adulthood as well as providing guidance on the media preferences of this cohort.

All findings were linked back to the nuances of each key profile identified during the segmentation, demonstrating that a “one size fits all” approach would not work for the overall acquisition and retention strategy of the RFU.

Following the research, some of the RFU’s actions focused on:

  • Retaining U16-U18 in 2023-4, as this is where the sport was found to be struggling the most
  • Sending field staff into clubs to assist with the development of coaches for this particular age group.
  • Tailoring the 23/24 start of season marketing campaign on this age group, using the insights from the workshop
  • Making it easier for young people to come to the stadium to watch England matches – firstly, by releasing a new category of junior tickets for the Men’s Six Nations, and secondly by hosting the Red Roses (England Women) at Twickenham for a match – working with 75 schools to bring pupils along!

By providing ongoing access to Savanta’s AllVue platform, the RFU are able to continue to use the data from the initial research beyond the end of the project and supplementing it each year with an annual tracking survey with the same age group.

The study’s comprehensive dataset will serve as a valuable resource, informing future commercial and participation strategies.

Savanta helped us baseline our position and identify priorities for improving young people’s relationships with rugby union. Their focus groups, in particular, brought to life teens’ stories in a way that made the recommendations compelling for internal and external stakeholders.

Tory Clarkson, Insights Team Lead, RFU

The Rugby Football Union is the national governing body for grassroots and elite rugby union in England. Its purpose is to enrich lives, introduce more people to rugby union and develop the sport for future generations.

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Public & Social | Research Methods | Sport & Leisure | Youth | Youth

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07/10/2023