Rugby’s biggest tournament is finally heading to the United States.
Now comes the hard part for the sport’s leadership: Generating enough interest and sustainability to secure rugby’s place in a crowded U.S. market.
The Rugby World Cup will be staged in the U.S. for the first time after being voted on Thursday as the host of the men’s event in 2031 and the women’s tournament two years later.
It marks rugby’s first attempt to move into the wider American sporting consciousness and unlock what World Rugby — the global governing body — regards as an area of untapped potential, in both a commercial and sporting sense.
“The golden nugget that everybody wants to get hold of” was how World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont described America.
“What we will leave in the U.S.,” he said, “is an extremely sustainable, vibrant sport that will go from strength to strength.”
USA Rugby’s vision is of countrywide membership more than quadrupling to 450,000 by 2031, of stadiums “from coast to coast” staging matches — there have been around 25 venue bids, including from NFL and Major League Soccer arenas — and of significant investment in the domestic Major League Rugby so the U.S. Eagles are a competitive team in time for 2031.
A competitive, perhaps quarterfinal-bidding team, would crucially be necessary for the Eagles and the World Cup to cut through the considerable noise that is U.S. sports. The Rugby World Cup is staged during September-October, when America is already transfixed by the NFL and college football, the Major League Baseball pennant races and playoffs, and the start of the NBA and NHL.
USA Rugby already has some experience. The Rugby World Cup Sevens at the baseball home of the San Francisco Giants in July 2018 drew more than 100,000 people across three days, and…