Photo/IllutrationRugby fans, with beers in their hands, wait for the kickoff of a New Zealand-Australia match at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Oct. 27. (Shuhei Nomura)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

How do you keep the beer-thirsty masses happy at the biggest rugby event in the world?

Have endless amounts of the frothy beverage flowing and send vendors out into the stands.

This is the strategy of the organizer of Rugby World Cup 2019, scheduled to start Sept. 20, which is expected to attract about 400,000 visitors to Japan.

In anticipation of high demand for beer, the event's organizing committee used a recent rugby game as a test of the operating ability of staff to supply sufficient suds to spectators.

Before a 3 p.m. game on Oct. 27 between New Zealand and Australia at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, which will host seven World Cup matches, including the finals and semifinals, many people could be seen drinking around the venue.

With 46,000 spectators packed into the stadium, more snack stands than usual were opened on the grounds and beer could be bought in sets of six cans. There were no beer shortages or other complaints, partly because fewer foreign spectators than expected were in attendance.

"We'll serve beer cold, and it will never be sold out," said Hisafumi Tezuka, head of the organizing committee's catering section and in charge of food and beverage provision at 12 venues across Japan for the World Cup. “At least these two goals must be achieved.”

A Nissan Stadium official in charge of food and drinks said she was surprised by how much beer rugby fans from outside Japan consume.

“A spectator typically drinks one glass of draft beer during a soccer match, but rugby watchers consume four to six glasses per person,” she said. “One customer even bought 24 cans of beer.”

There are inseparable links between beer and rugby mainly in British Commonwealth nations, where the sport is extremely popular.

Bill Beaumont, chairman of the World Rugby international governing body, described the practice of rugby lovers consuming large amounts of beer as a tradition.

In fact, it is common for spectators to start drinking beer two to three hours before rugby matches. Data showed that 2.5 million rugby fans consumed 1.7 liters of beer per person on average at the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England.

As fewer international rugby matches have been held in Japan, World Rugby is concerned about Tokyo’s ability to prepare an environment where spectators can fully enjoy the beverage.

In a game between Japan and Australia in November last year, beer was sold out at some stands before the match kicked off, as the site was flooded with 44,000 people.

Another problem is that canned beer cannot be served owing to security reasons during the knock-out round of the World Cup, when many VIPs are expected to watch the games.

The key to the event’s success is therefore providing sufficient draft beer.

Tezuka said he has a secret plan to deal with the issue: deploying vendors to walk around and sell draft beer among seats in stadiums. Under the plan, 100 such vendors will be available at venues in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In the New Zealand-Australia match in October, 50 vendors were deployed.

Tezuka took his British boss to a professional baseball game in the summer. His supervisor was surprised to see vendors walking around selling beer.

“Britain seemingly has no practice of allowing vendors to sell beer at sports venues, so deploying vendors will offer a sort of hospitality unique to Japan,” Tezuka said.