The 2023 Rugby World Cup kicked off in France on Friday, and while the competition is already a roaring success, it’s not always front page news even within countries involved.
Italy is a nation with a rich sporting heritage. While football remains the main attraction, participation and success in a wide range of sports, finds rugby playing catch-up.
Success still largely eludes the national rugby team, but since joining the Six Nations in 2000 the landscape has changed enormously.
“From our entry into the Six Nations to today, rugby has experienced and continues to experience an important developmental process in Italy,” Andrea Cimbrico, Head of Communications and Media Relations at the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR), told Reuters.
In 2000, the number of registered players was 25,000 and today that figure has quadrupled to 100,000 according to the FIR, but unless these numbers come with victories, attracting media attention will remain a battle.
Italy began their Rugby World Cup campaign with a win over Namibia on Saturday, but picking up the country’s most popular sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, the day after, there was no mention on the front page.
Indeed, you would need to go to the very end of the newspaper, after all of the other sports coverage including soccer, Moto GP, cycling, volleyball, basketball and tennis before reaching coverage of Italy in France.
The newspaper’s main rugby journalist, Andrea Buongiovanni, explained the reasons behind this.
“In a country which lives for football, and where so many sporting disciplines have found success, rugby remains a niche sport in Italy,” he told Reuters.
“It’s a question of tradition, and in my opinion, considering the small following rugby has in Italy, we give the Rugby World Cup ample coverage.”
Italy’s other main sports daily, Corriere dello Sport, did have news on Italy’s opening victory on their front page. It may have been tucked away in the bottom corner, but it’s hopefully a sign of things to come. FIR’s Cimbrico is optimistic.
“Regarding the traditional media, in particular, newspapers, in the last year we implemented a PR agency to support us in conveying the FIR projects and the infinite stories that our movement is able to tell,” he said.
“It’s a continuously evolving process, the media feedback is strongly influenced by the performances of our national teams, which represent the first tool for promoting the game in our country.”
The main story in Sunday’s sports newspapers in Italy, was the national soccer team’s draw with North Macedonia. A look at the TV figures explains the logic behind this.
Italy’s Euro 2024 qualifier was watched by more than six million Italians, while the rugby game with Namibia attracted a total of just over 700,000. The gap remains huge, but the number of viewers is double the amount that watched Italy v Namibia in 2019.
It will take more than a win in their next game with Uruguay to push the Rugby World Cup onto the front pages. La Gazzetta dello Sport don’t currently have a reporter on the ground in France, but they will have by the time Italy face New Zealand.
A win over the All Blacks, or France, and a first-ever qualification for the knockout stages, and there is no doubt that Italian rugby would steal the headlines, and not just at home.
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