Japan victory points to rugby’s growing fanbase

Rugby World Cup organisers hope for a lucrative tournament after Japanese fans empty shelves of merchandise at a London rugby store following their team’s stunning victory over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup

OXFORD STREET, LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 22, 2015) (REUTERS) – The Rugby World Cup’s official merchandise store on London’s Oxford Street was forced to pull down its shutters early on Sunday, after it was besieged by Japanese fans celebrating their team’s stunning victory over South Africa at the weekend.

The shop had been unable to cater to the demands of fans looking to snap up mementoes of the Brave Blossoms’ 34-32 shock win over the twice champions, said Brett Gosper, chief executive of the sport’s global governing body.

“We had to close #RWC2015 official merchandise store on Oxford St yesterday due to overwhelming merchandise demand from the Japanese public,” Gosper tweeted on Monday.

Hosted by England, the Sept. 18-Oct. 31 World Cup is the biggest to date, and organisers expect it to generate commercial revenue of around 240 million pounds ($372.19 million).

Robert Haigh of brand valuation experts Brand Finance says that with rugby as the fastest-growing team sport at the moment, there is plenty to draw in advertisers and sponsors.

”It still is very small compared to, say, football or some other very significant sporting events like the Olympics. It has a very niche audience in some ways, so it’s geographically specific, but also demographically specific. That said, it is a very wealthy audience, generally.”

A Japan rugby shirt retails in the shop for 70 pounds ($108.56), while at the other end of the scale a Japanese enamel badge costs five pounds ($7.75).

Japan face Scotland in Gloucester on Wednesday, before South Africa take on Samoa in Birmingham at the weekend.