The last Rugby League World Cup broke records on and off the pitch over five weeks of action, which kicked off at St James’ Park on 15 October and concluded with Australia winning the men’s and women’s Finals at Old Trafford on 19 November.
In that time, 61 matches were played with the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments held simultaneously for the first time.
England exacted revenge for defeat in the 2017 Wheelchair World Cup final, defeating rivals France to claim their second Wheelchair world title before Australia continued their dominance of the running game by defeating New Zealand and Samoa in the women’s and men’s finals respectively.
Every minute of every match from all three tournaments was broadcast live by the BBC with a cumulative match average audience of 29.24 million people tuning in domestically across network and digital channels.
The Wheelchair final between England and France, was watched by a combined peak audience of 1.3 million people, with a world record crowd of more than 4,500 people also filling Manchester Central to watch the two best teams in the world go head-to-head.
Elsewhere, the biggest television audience across all 61 games was for England v Samoa in the men’s semi-finals with a combined peak audience of 2.8 million and a 23% audience share, while England women’s semi-final defeat to New Zealand saw a combined peak of 1.4 million watching on the BBC. A further two matches in the women’s tournament were watched by more than a million people.
In terms of demographics, 40% of the TV audience share was female, while 37% of the overall viewers were under the age 55. Encouragingly 46% of the viewership was based south of the Midlands, outside of the traditional rugby league heartlands with a further 43% based in the north and the remaining share from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The women’s final between Australia and New Zealand was watched by nearly a million viewers in the UK, while nearly two million tuned in to watch Australia overcome Samoa to win their 12th title. In terms of the overseas audience, more than 400,000 people tuned in from Australia to watch the men’s and women’s finals double header live, despite the match kicking off at 3am down under.
On the back of this, the next World Cup was set to be even bigger and better and expand the sport further in France.
These all provided the perfect examples of how to use funding to ensure the success and growth of the sport but the best World Cup has been hit with a blow that could make emulating this success in France in 2025 much tougher.
According to reports in Australia, because of pressure from other European countries, the tournament could be set to lose $12 million in funding in what could be a disappointing blow for the sport as it hopes to grow in France.