Despite its origins tracing back to the 1860s, modern day rugby in Canada could often be described as a niche sport to many.
With the popularity of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors ever-growing, as well as Ice Hockey and the NHL being crowned the de facto national sport of the country, rugby is competing on two fronts – growth of the sport commercially, and growth of participation in the sport.
In the latest episode of the Behind The Badge podcast, Director of Digital Strategy of the Toronto Arrows, Alex Borthwick, is joined by hosts George Harborne and Callum Williams for an in-depth discussion on the complexities of growing rugby to new audiences.
Borthwick, having made the transition from football to work in North American rugby, described the opportunity to work with the Arrows as one you had to go in with a ‘startup mentality’ as everything was relatively new to him.
But he had to learn quickly, as the sport is relatively new to a majority of young Canadians too. However, whilst not being under the same limelight as other sports, Borthwick admits that this has enabled him and the team the time and ability to try new and innovative methods.
The grassroots level was also a key discussion point into how the Arrows can use their leverage as the only Major League Rugby (MLR) team, which extended into a more broader discussion on the possibility of more Canadian rugby teams being added to the league to create further growth.
With Ontario passing the bill to legalise online sports gambling in the province, this enabled the Arrows to venture into a new sponsorship lane.
Borthwick shared the first few years involving the sponsorship deal was “a bit of a disaster” due to the COVID-19 pandemic throwing things upside down, but revealed there had been an uptick in rugby betting on its app.
With the 2031 Rugby Union World Cup set to take place in the US, the sport in North America has more than enough time to increase both commercially and in participation.