While there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the tournament at least proved to be a commercial success and one of the most watched sporting spectacles in history.

This was borne out by the viewership figures for the showpiece final between France and Argentina, which averaged nearly 26 million viewers in the US and some 16.8 million on the Fox streaming platform alone.

Overall, viewership at the 2022 World Cup was up 30% when compared with the 2018 tournament in Russia. But how does the event compare with the rugby alternative, and what lessons can the latter take from its more illustrious competitor.

Football vs Rugby – How do Their World Cups Compare in Terms of Viewership?

We’re now just months away from the Rugby World Cup 2023, which will take place in France and see 20 nations compete for the sport’s biggest prize.

The last tournament took place in 2019 in Japan, with the final between England and South Africa ultimately becoming the most watched in the sport’s history with an average live audience of 44.9 million.

As we can see, this falls well short of the 2022 FIFA WC final,  while this is a trend that also applies to in-person attendance at matches.

To provide some historical context, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil saw a total attendance figure of 3.43 million. This beat the previous record set in South Africa four years’ previously (3.18 million), but these figures are only slightly higher than the best performing rugby finals.

For example, the 2015 Rugby WC in England drew a cumulative attendance of 2.22 million across grounds nationwide. The 2011 iteration in New Zealand drew a further 1.47 million in live audience, with both superseding UEFA’s 2012 European Championships and the recent FIFA Women’s’ World Cup.

What Can the Rugby World Cup Learn from its FIFA Counterpart?

Interestingly, the Rugby World Cup in France 2023 is projected to break all previous tournament attendance records, both in-person and across live sporting broadcasts.

However, there’s no suggestion that the tournament or its final will come close to emulating the FIFA World Cup, which continues to benefit from a broader global audience and the wider sports’ worldwide popularity.

Make no mistake; Rugby simply isn’t as global a sport as football, as while the discipline is widely participated in and watched in Southern Hemisphere nations like Australia and New Zealand, it lacks significant representation in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The same cannot be said for football, with the recent FIFA World Cup featuring 32 sides from five different confederations. This is because the sport of football has already penetrated the four corners of the globe, whereas the complex and less fluid game of Rugby Union has yet to achieve this objective.

It’s interesting to note that the organises of the 2023 Rugby World Cup are focused on creating unique and exceptional fan experiences for in-person attendance, in order to optimise engagement and create the types of atmosphere synonymous with football.

This could help to increase live attendances and create the type of spectacle that translates well on television, enabling the Rugby World Cup to inch closer to its more illustrious FIFA rival.