How England’s women’s rugby team achieved record-breaking attendance

Written by
Fifty Team

09 Jul, 2019

It is an unfortunate but true fact that selling tickets to female team sporting events has typically been more of a challenge than the male equivalent. It’s hard to overcome hurdles such as the comparative nascency of women’s professional teams, the historical lack of investment and subsequent low visibility. Even women’s football, which garnered record-breaking television viewership during the Women’s World Cup 2019, still faced a problem of empty seats throughout the tournament in France.


The RFU didn’t know whether its audience knowledge of the England’s men’s was transferrable to fans of the women’s team. Should they be selling tickets the same way? On the same platforms and websites? By partnering with Fifty, the RFU wanted to discover not only who is watching women’s rugby now, but who might be interested in attending a game in the future.

Since the RFU promotes both the men’s and women’s national team, it does not have separate social accounts. While this is more inclusive, it makes it much harder for the RFU to understand who the fans of its women’s game are, and therefore harder to tailor messages towards them.

The RFU tasked Fifty with selling tickets, at all price points, for two women’s Six Nations fixtures – one in Exeter and one in Doncaster. We had to develop an audience analysis strategy that could uncover the fans of the female game, without making assumptions that they are simply broader fans of the RFU. But without a distinct presence on social media, it was less obvious where the analysis should begin.


Using an entirely bespoke approach, Fifty undertook a social study not of the Red Roses, which is the official account of both the men’s and women’s teams, but of prominent players on England’s women's team.

By mapping out players, and examining the overlapping tribes between them, we could then build a holistic picture of the types of consumers’ who care about women’s rugby and who would be prone to purchasing tickets.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest tribe was Rugby Union superfans, who love all things rugby but Fifty wanted to paint a specific picture of the women’s team fan and so we looked at smaller tribes that had very high engagement. Here, we saw a divergence from fans of the male sport. While typical rugby fans tend to be armchair participants, where the extent of their involvement in the sport is shouting at their telly, for the women’s team, there was a high proportion of fans who are active sports players.

We uncovered tribes like Sports Participants, who had a gender split of 55% male to 45% female and had bio keywords like “sports”, “team” and “coach”. Alongside female rugby players, they are fans of sports non-profits like Women’s Sports Trust and organisations such as ParkRun UK as well as Olympic athletes like Bradley Wiggins. Their love of sports, and not just rugby, gave the RFU new marketing opportunities for ad placements.

Another tribe, Female Fitness Fans showcased a passion for nutrition, health and exercise. Predominantly a younger audience, they certainly didn’t fit the typical rugby fan segment. Their top websites included plant-based blogger Deliciously Ella and Vogue, alongside obstacle race course Tough Mudder and wearable brand FitBit. It was an unexpected tribe of women which converted into ticket sales.


By using our audience intelligence to then inform marketing strategies, the RFU saw record-breaking attendance at both fixtures. One of the matches was the most well attended female game that didn’t follow a men’s match – a more typical way to convert attendees.


Speedy analysis can lead to speedy results. We began selling tickets based on our analysis just two weeks before the Doncaster fixture and six weeks ahead of the Exeter fixture, with strong ticket sales results.

Using Fifty, difficult things become easier to sell. Our unique approach to social data means that we can build a nuanced picture of target audiences that are otherwise difficult to find and difficult to target.

We focus on interests not demographics. Unlike a traditional media approach, which would target all rugby fans the same, Fifty enabled the RFU to uncover unexpected fans and target them in unexpected places like the This Girl Can Facebook page, which they might have otherwise ignored.

RFU // Check out our latest case studies here.

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