If England get knocked out early in the Rugby World Cup it is hosting, it will not only be a sporting humiliation but a financial setback.
If England lose to Australia in Pool A on Saturday, the hosts will almost certainly tumble out of the tournament. No country staging the event has gone out this early.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster has compared the match to a World Cup final.
But perhaps there is even more riding on it.
Lancaster, whose position would be on the line even though his contract was extended for six years in 2014, would be the embodiment of a failure that would have ramifications off the pitch — starting at the Rugby Football Union.
The RFU, the game’s governing body in England, wanted to host the best-ever World Cup to inspire a generation to take up rugby. Early elimination would be a disaster.
Its chief executive Ian Ritchie called it the “opportunity of a lifetime” and insisted that 2015 was the “most important year since the RFU was formed in 1871”.
– Feel-good factor –
The RFU has often been criticised for not capitalising on England winning the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
This time, with the tournament in England, the RFU has made a huge investment, with a major promotion push surrounding matches screened on prime-time television.
However, “unless England win or a star domestic player emerges, then the World Cup will not deliver on the promise that its hosting in England would have suggested,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University, told AFP.
An early English elimination would also be a blow to RFU merchandising revenues such as from England shirts.
“A feel-good factor leads people to buy shirts as they seek to show their patriotism. Early exit would be highly undesirable for Canterbury,” the kit manufacturers.
Heineken, the tournament’s main sponsors, are also crossing their fingers.
“It would be a shame to lose as rugby-mad a market as England,” said the Dutch brewer’s global activation director, Hans Erik Tuijt.
“The number of viewers in the UK will dramatically drop if they’re knocked out. We’d like to see England do well,” he told the industry’s news portal just-drinks.
Pubs are also pinning their hopes on England beating Australia.
“An early exit in the World Cup will no doubt mean a drop in custom for struggling licensees across the country,” said Neil Walker, spokesman for the CAMRA beer industry advocacy group.
– Television cliff-hanger –
For ITV, which has the exclusive television broadcasting rights in Britain, a swift England exit “could be a disaster”, said Phil Hall of MediaCom, Britain’s biggest advertisers’ media buying agency.
He said ITV could lose between one and two million pounds per match ($1.5-3.0 million, 1.4-2.7 million euros) due to a 40 percent drop in the price of advertising slots.
“The result of the game on Saturday could have a meaningful effect on ITV’s year from a revenue point of view, as well as a wider knock-on effect on the advertising market and the economy,” Hall told AFP.
During England’s 25-28 defeat to Wales on Saturday, ITV averaged 8.3 million viewers and a 38 percent share of the television audience, peaking at 11.6 million and 49 percent.
“An England exit would be less than perfect but with Wales, Scotland and Ireland performing so well there is still a great tournament for us to showcase,” ITV director of sports Niall Sloane told AFP.
“The overall audiences would experience a minor dip but we would make no less effort to show the remaining for our viewers.”
The tournament itself should not suffer directly, according to Joanna Manning-Cooper, communications director for its organisers England 2015.
“We have sold nearly all of the tickets for the knock-out stages, so we would still expect full venues whatever the outcome of the group stages,” she said.
And overall, the economic fall-out would also be limited.
“There are still significant numbers of overseas fans here that are sufficient to generate a fairly buoyant economic benefit,” said Chadwick.
But for English rugby, “fail to make the knockout stages and their worst nightmare will become depressingly real,” The Guardian newspaper’s rugby correspondent Robert Kitson wrote.