2023’s Rugby and Cricket World Cups – Gen Z, athlete influencers and the changing social landscape

The 2023 sporting calendar has seen a wide range of international events including The Rugby World Cup (RWC) in France and the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (CWC) in India, both attracting record-breaking audiences across the globe. Over 2.4 million spectators, across 48 matches attended the Rugby World Cup [6] and over in India the cricket saw 1.25 million fans attend the matches throughout the tournament [3]. While attendance numbers continue to rise, we delve into whether the social media traction for each tournament exhibits the same upward trajectory and if Gen Z’s viewing behaviour impacts online popularity.

Athletes and their influence

Looking at each sport's key athletes and their presence across social media during the 2023 World Cups, it's evident that cricket has risen as the dominant sport by a significant amount. India’s Virat Kohli emerged as the number one athlete influencer, garnering a staggering 588.8 million total actions [1]. In comparison, Rugby's top influencer, French Captain Antoine Dupont, received a mere 3.2 million engagements. The combined social media engagements of the 15 most popular rugby players amounted to just 6.9 million, paling in comparison to cricket's social media presence [5]. Athletes and sports influencers have the power to drive connections with new audiences by sharing content on their platforms, increasing reach and in turn generating more interest. It is important for sports organisations to be mindful of this when producing material, including repurposing clips for social media use, and ensuring broad accessibility.

"Sports Influencers have the power to drive connections with new audiences" 

Viewing Platforms

The respective sports federations concentrated their attention on different viewing platforms to attract online audiences during the 2023 World Cups. World Rugby’s focus was promoting their new app, RugbyPass TV, an official streaming service aimed to provide fans with live and on-demand content. The platform was credited with assisting World Rugby reach fans directly in markets where broadcast deals were not in place and garnered over 350,000 subscribers and a total of 1.7 million users globally [4]. This led World Rugby to restrict the sharing of match footage across social media, which may have impacted the visibility of viral moments and the organic reach of content. However, to stay relevant to a younger audience, the official Rugby World Cup accounts remained active and shared short relatable content, leading to an impressive following of 2.6 million and 133.6 million likes on TikTok.

Cricket set a new streaming record during the CWC Final with a peak concurrent audience of 59 million viewers on India's largest premium streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar [7]. Cricket also has a strong presence on Instagram, catering to a younger demographic, with 3.1 million Cricket World Cup followers and 29.8 million ICC followers. Throughout the tournament, users were able to enjoy short form clips of key moments that were easily digestible which helped generate buzz and interest. It’s key that sports organisations understand their audience's needs and viewing preferences, producing content and strategically presenting it to the appropriate audiences on suitable platforms is essential for fostering audience growth and maintaining engagement.

The Changing Landscape

Research indicates a significant shift in Gen Z's sporting preferences, with both rugby and cricket ranking lower on the list of sports Gen Z audiences engage with, compared to adults aged 24+. While rugby union remains among the top four sports for engagement among UK adults, it fails to make the top 10 for Gen Z adults aged 18-24 [2]. Cricket, on the other hand, remains in the top 10 only shifting from fifth place amongst all adults to seventh place amongst Gen Z.

The social media landscape has become a vital tool for sports to maintain and expand their global appeal, especially amongst a younger demographic. As sports continue to navigate the crossroads of tradition and modernity, finding a balance between what currently works and fostering online engagement is crucial for future success.

How can Story10 help?

We can help you reach new and younger audiences through our unique global distribution network of earned and paid media channels, including access to 7.5 million influencers. Working with federations and rightsholders we supplement regular match-day highlights content by producing and distributing relevant shoulder content around events and athletes that creates buzz and drives engagement with sports fans worldwide.




[1] Comscore. (2023). ICC Cricket World Cup 2023: A wish of a billion hearts. Available at: Last updated: 16 November 2023

[2] EY. (2023). Boxing, Basketball and Badminton are among the most popular sports with Gen-Z adults in the UK. Available at: Last updated: 9 November 2023

[3] International Cricket Council. (2023). More history made at World Cup as new record for spectators broken. Available at: Last updated: 21 November 2023

[4] Rapid TV News. (2023). World Rugby reaches fans beyond broadcast deals thanks to D2C. Available at: Last updated: 24 November 2023

[5] Redtorch. (2023). Antoine Dupont most popular player as Rugby World Cup fails to score big on social media. Available at: Last updated: 1 November 2023.

[6] Rugby World Cup Ltd. (2023). Rugby World Cup 2023 will leave a legacy of harmony, growth and sustainable responsibility. Available at: Last updated: 30 October 2023.

[7] SportsPro. (2023). 2023 Cricket World Cup final: Disney Hotstar breaks streaming record with 59m viewers. Available at: Last updated: 21 November 2023.