Is following the Rugby World Cup bad for business?

On the first day of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Figure It Out took a look at the chances of each of the home nations winning this year. As the World Cup is gathering pace it is time to think about the impact this may be having on British enthusiasts who may be showing signs of ‘Rugby fever’.

Have you seen any colleagues coming into work a bit bleary-eyed or late during the week? Have you noticed increased levels of unexpected sickness on the day of or after a rugby match? As the RWC is being held in New Zealand, this means that many of the games are falling in the middle of the night or starting in the early morning, and enthusiasts are staying up through the night or getting in late to follow their favourite sport.

Consider the effects of loss of sleep on employees: unreliable, irritable, poor concentration, or sleepy, or worse, all of them! Some possible consequences include poorer focus and attention to detail, which is more significant if you operate machinery, or work in a hazardous environment. The impact could include: health and safety, liability, customer service, quality issues, decision-making ability. For example consider construction site workers not securing safety equipment or city traders needing to make split-second decisions with £ms or £bns.

So how big is this issue?

In 2007 the RWC Final viewing figures peaked at 16 million viewers in the UK (not including the millions watching in clubs and bars), and in 2011 viewers are expected to reach 4 billion globally.

Also time of viewings doesn’t seem to have a huge impact as it is reported that the Rugby World Cup in Australia in 2003 attracted a UK audience of 12-14 million viewers, a record for any rugby match broadcast to a UK audience (and almost certainly a record audience figure for the time of day – around 9am UK time.

On 7th September the RWC kicked off and since then 32 matches have been played. There are 16 matches left to play….but as the final rounds become closer and with the next RWC in 2015 heading to England – how far will ‘Rugby fever’ spread? Rugby Union fans have been traditionally associated with upper middle/middle class, and private-school education, and from a corporate background (although the demographic reach is now spreading much wider). Also according to research 80% of followers are male and 20% female. So if your employee profile is more skewed towards the more highly represented groups, you may have a higher risk of seeing an impact in your business.

The # UK males of working age are likely to watch the RWC

  • Number of UK population expected to watch the RWC = 16,000,000
  • 80% of 16,000,000 viewers are likely to be male = 12,800,000
  • Proportion of males who are of working age = 20,979,401 of 31,118,195 = 67%
  • So if we assume (making a number of assumptions in the process…) that of these 12,800,000 male viewers around 67% of working age then 8,629,366 UK males of working age are likely to watch the RWC, and could catch ‘Rugby fever.

Web content and e-mail security firm Marshal estimates the cost of the tournament to business could by as much as £461m based on the UK’s average hourly wage of £14.42 an hour. As the England team launch their campaign to defend their World Cup title, the Computer Weekly Magazine report that they expect that 10% of employed Britons will spend half an hour of each working day watching coverage of matches or browsing the web for updates on scores. In addition betting website Betfair found that 32% of fans would consider skipping work for the 2010 football world cup, let’s assume a slightly more modest level of 20% absence could occur again for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.


Identify the cost of 20% of these 8,629,366 employees taking 1 day absence due to ‘Rugby fever’. 20% of 8,629,366 =1,725,873 days lost due to absence

  • 1,725,873 days multiplied by UK average hourly rate of £14.42 *7.5 hours = £186,653,185
  • £186,653,185 from absence plus £461,000,000 from web surfing = total cost of £647,653,185

Can employers find a cure for ‘Rugby fever’?


Companies have a number of options to address the issues – the popularity of the football world cup last year meant that many workplaces invested in TVs and applied flexible working rules to enable more people to watch games. A year on, how about streaming the games in the morning at the office or agreeing to meet up close to you place of work? An estimated 10,000 pubs in UK are opening early in order to show the games. This could encourage team building as well as ensuring that employees make it to the office after the game!

Employers should consider the opportunities that might be welcomed by those who are not supporting the RWC. For example, research shows that older workers are less likely to take time off sick than younger workers and are often more open to flexible working arrangements, so if they have no interest in rugby they may be a flexible resource who would benefit from working during the morning of a match or over the night shift.

Therefore ‘Rugby fever’ could be cured or proactively managed by considering opportunities for increased flexibility in working arrangements and hours, rearrangement of shifts, working longer hours on days when there are no games to offset (where practical), agreeing to holidays that are requested and overall being open about expectations and what will/will not be tolerated during this period.

HR analysis and modelling would benefit the planning process in order to successfully plan for in this example a temporary switch in operations involving forecasting, scheduling, shift redesign, and cost while maintaining targets, deadlines and customer service standards.