When the world’s third largest sporting event rolls into town with the promise of boosting the UK economy by nearly £1 billion, the interest of businesses across the country is bound to be aroused.
That is the scenario facing businesses in England and Wales later this year, with a report from professional services firm EY claiming that the 2015 Rugby World Cup will generate £2.2 billion and contribute £982 million to GDP when it comes to these shores for the first time since 1999 in September and October.
Most stores with rugby stock will feel some sort of lift but, with the official Rugby World Cup merchandising contract awarded to Elite Sports Properties, Sportfolio given the exclusive apparel licence, Canterbury making the goods and official stores popping up across London, it remains to be seen how much independent retailers will benefit.
Levels of optimism seem to vary from region to region, but in the rugby union heartland of Gloucester, John Hudson, owner of Hudson & Co Sports, says sales have already picked up. And he expects things to gather pace as we near the opening match.
Hudson says: “We have had Rugby World Cup related stock in here since last year and it has been doing very well already. We have got four games in Gloucester, so we are expecting it to have a big impact.
“We will be marketing around the World Cup with advertising and in-store promotions and hopefully using various outlets nearer the time, so there will be more investment in that.”
The four matches at Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm Stadium feature Tonga, Georgia, Scotland, Japan, Argentina and USA and Hudson is hoping the influx of foreign visitors will boost sales as they look to pick up a souvenir of their trip to Gloucester.
This World Cup is set to attract far more international visitors than any other, with up to 466,000 people from abroad anticipated, who are expected to generate £869 million in revenue for the UK economy.
A total aggregate attendance of up to 66,000 could be seen at the four fixtures in Gloucester. Around a third of that number are generally thought to be international visitors, based on previous tournaments and estimates. All of that means potential new customers for Hudson & Co Sports, which is just half a mile from Kingsholm and is expecting an uplift in sales of almost a third as a result.
“Because we have got games locally in Gloucester, there has been a lot more interest,” Hudson adds. “The local council are promoting Gloucester as a destination for lots of travelling fans because it is within an hour of Cardiff, takes two hours to get to London by train and is only an hour from Birmingham.
“People may have bought shirts and kit before they left home though, so we are gearing up to sell supporters souvenirs of their trip to Gloucester as well. We usually see a big percentage uplift in sales during World Cups and I think it will probably be at least 20 to 30 per cent.”
With experience of trading during previous Rugby World Cups, both those taking place in the UK and abroad, Hudson says the tournament has grown enormously since the inaugural one in 1987.
“We have been in business for over 100 years and since it started the Rugby World Cup has just got bigger and bigger and that has been reflected in sales as well,” he explains. “Every World Cup has been a bit better than the last for us, but obviously 2003, at the end rather than in the build-up, was a massive one. There has not been anything like this one before in terms of build-up though.
“The Rugby World Cup has learned a lot from the Olympics, especially when it comes to how to market an event like this, and as sports retailers that is something we have got to utilise to help our businesses.”
The countdown to the tournament started early and Hudson says he began thinking about it from a retail perspective as early as June 2013: “As soon as everything was announced, we started talking to people and finding out who was making the clothing. Host city polo shirts, t-shirts and rugby balls have sold well so far. It has taken me by surprise just how early things have started to sell well. The only issue is you have to almost have a crystal ball because most of the items have got to be pre-booked.”
However, other independent retailers aren’t quite as convinced of the benefit they will derive from the tournament.
Despite Sussex having produced the likes of current England stars Joe Marler and Joe Launchbury, Brighton is not considered quite as much of a rugby hotbed as Gloucester and the experience there has been somewhat different.
The American Express Community Stadium is playing host to South Africa vs Japan and Samoa vs USA, but Ken George, owner of Swift Sports in Brighton, says there has been no impact so far and he is not expecting a major boost when the tournament begins, unless England are particularly successful.
He explains: “We have got several clubs around us and we sell a lot of rugby boots and equipment, but we are not expecting a massive boost from the Rugby World Cup. There will always be people who come in to buy a few more England shirts and perhaps those of the other home nations and maybe some South Africa shirts will sell. When we won the World Cup back in 2003, that did give a boost to the sport and to retail, so hopefully if England does well we may feel the benefit.
“We will have some of the nations’ shirts in and be hoping to sell more rugby products, but I don’t know that we will be doing a lot of extra marketing for it. I think independent retailers can benefit in a small way, but we have been open 50 years and it has never been a big boost for us. It certainly isn’t as big as the World Cup in football.”
Gloucester’s economy is predicted to benefit to the tune of £48 million from the tournament, according to a recent economic impact study, and Brighton’s should be boosted by £46 million. How much of that impact will be felt by retailers remains to be seen.
The official Rugby World Cup pop-up shops that have sprung up in the likes of Kingston, the Westfield Shopping Centre, Covent Garden and most recently Oxford Street are likely to do a roaring trade, but there seems to be little concern from independent retailers, provided they aren’t taking sales away from local businesses in other areas of the country.
Jack Clark from Lovell Rugby, the specialist online rugby retailer, says the Rugby World Cup should be big enough for all retailers to benefit from.
“The Lions tour is very big, but the Rugby World Cup is massive for us and it should be especially big this time with it being in the UK,” he says. “Each team has a Rugby World Cup shirt and we will have every one of them in stock, plus we are hoping the merchandise around the World Cup should increase sales.
“As an online retailer specialising in rugby, I don’t think the pop-up shops will have an affect on us. I think the World Cup will be good for retail across the board.”