The International Rugby Football Board’s declaration on 27 August 1995 to legalise professionalism created a new landscape for rugby union and highlighted the growing significance of the relationship between sport and the media. While originally relying solely on gate revenues to maintain financial viability, professional sport now generates income from television and a range of other media-constructed commercial revenue streams. The increase in popularity that sport experienced in the latter half of the twentieth century signifies the entwined evolution of media and sport that was driven by advances in media technology and an increase in consumer purchasing power. At the onset of the twenty-first century, the economic value of sport could be measured in billions and it had developed a truly global identity.

The speed and scale of the transformation of sport, and particularly rugby union, throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries illustrates a change in the philosophy of sport. However, rugby union’s late acceptance of professionalism was an example of reactive governance rather than a part of any formalised strategic plan. Consequently, rugby union has constantly been playing ‘catch-up’, adapting to the demands of the modern professionalised sporting environment and there is an argument to suggest that the professional rugby union ‘product’ is still in a state of flux. This chapter explores recent developments in rugby union including:

The player market

Players as assets

The evolution of the match official

New consumer markets for rugby union.

The players’ voice – experiences, expectations and consequences