Fans of rugby in America have plenty of reasons to smile. For the first time in a long while, they see a positive future for rugby in this country. More and more young men and women are playing the sport, the High School All-Americans have secured long-term funding, the Junior All-Americans were promoted to the Junior World Championship, the 7’s program now has full-time players, as does the women’s team who have also had some success, and the Eagles held their own against Italy. Additionally, rugby has taken on a higher profile. More and more people are paying attention to the sport and fans are turning out. So maybe it’s time for Eagles fans and U.S.A. Rugby to start thinking about doing something ambitious: hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
Hosting the World Cup would be a watershed moment for rugby in this country, much like it was for soccer in 1994. It would help launch rugby to a new level of fan awareness and would generate even more interest among young players. But would the IRB even consider placing the World Cup in the United States? In reality it comes down to two things: money and organization.
The World Cup is all about making money. Since the first World Cup, each subsequent tournament has been about becoming bigger and more lucrative. It’s all about who can generate the most money and fans.
The U.S. has shown that they can get the fans out. The Junior World Rugby Trophy was sold out at every match, over nine thousand people turned out to watch the DI-A championship two years in a row, the Las Vegas 7’s consistently has drawn 30k fans while the CRC has drawn around 20k, Glendale always packs their stadium for internationals, and the U.S. drew 17k against Italy in Houston. Those numbers may not be enormous in comparison to the week in and week out crowds in Tier I nations, but in reality, fans will pack big stadiums to witness a World Cup. Many doubted that the U.S. could pull in big crowds for the 1994 World Cup, but that still stands as the highest attended World Cup of all time. A rugby World Cup would pull in similar numbers in N.F.L. stadiums.
Sold out stadiums means more money for the IRB, as does a rapt audience of 300 million. The Rugby World Cup had decent viewing numbers in the U.S. but not enough to get anyone’s attention. However, hosting the tournament would change that. There would be interest from ESPN, NBC Sports, and others that would bid to show the tournament. The network that won would in essence be generating new revenue for the IRB, and not just paltry revenue at that, more like tens of millions of dollars.
The U.S. is also easy to visit for visiting fans. It offers easy access from the Southern Hemisphere, and from Europe. One of the biggest difficulties in New Zealand was the cost for fans to travel to the event, but that wouldn’t be the case in the United States. Fans could travel to the U.S. for the World Cup and then stay on as part of their summer holiday (the U.S. is the second most visited country in the world, so this wouldn’t be hard to sell).
From a money standpoint, having the U.S. host the 2023 World Cup is a no-brainer for the IRB. It would easily pay out the most money of any World Cup and would be a boon to the IRB, Tier I, and Tier II nations.
But what about organization: can U.S.A. Rugby run a World Cup? Yes they can. Over the last year U.S.A. Rugby has shown that they can host some terrific events. The Eagles match against Italy and the Junior World Rugby Trophy were indications that U.S.A. Rugby can pull itself together to host big matches. Over the next few years as the U.S. hosts more Tier I nations and possibly more junior tournaments, they will only get stronger at hosting events.
Still, they have a ways to go. The biggest event of the U.S. rugby calendar is run by U.S.A. 7’s, not U.S.A. Rugby. Would the two organizations work together to host the World Cup? It’s possible, but probably not likely. U.S.A. Rugby wouldn’t want to share the revenue. U.S.A. Rugby is also strapped for cash. Hosting a big game once a year and drawing a big crowd may help, but until it can find a steady stream of income, it will have a hard time putting together the resources to launch a bid for 2023.
The play on the pitch needs to improve as well. The Eagles held their own against Italy, but they are going to have to show that they can do that on a consistent basis. The Junior teams are going to have to show that they can be consistent among the top teams as well. That is possible given the numbers of young people that play, but it still has to be carried out. The U.S. also doesn’t have a professional league. Hosting the World Cup could help launch a league (much like MLS was born out of the 1994 World Cup), but in reality the U.S. will most likely need a league before being considered.
Overall, the fact that we can even talk about hosting a World Cup is a positive thing. Rugby is on the up in our country, and we should be looking toward 2023.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the U.S. could or should host the World Cup?
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