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The year 2016 to date witnessed well-defined activity and numerous pronouncements concerning professional rugby in the United States. Foremost, was the creation and playing of the five team Pro Rugby League’s inaugural season. Then, the availability of the English Aviva Premiership games to be aired on NBCSN and NBC Sports App commencing this Saturday, September 2. And also, the rollout of The Rugby Channel with its televising via subscription the Pro 12 League matches (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy) and the Men’s Eagles games. Furthermore, the Pro 12 League announced it was considering adding two North American teams in Houston and Vancouver.
In addition, during the past two-years in the build up to the Olympics, more domestic print and broadcast media cited rugby as an up and coming sport and worthy of the nation’s attention. Sevens’ stars like Baker, Isles, and Hughes expanded awareness beyond the rugby community and into the mainstream.
Clearly, for many reasons, varied domestic and foreign entities now foresee profitable commercialization of the sport in America. Everyone has examined the same demographic information, and deduced that the time is propitious for these wide-reaching, American-based rugby business initiatives.
The data indicate that rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the country. But a closer look at this statistic – frequently ballyhooed as a prime reason for commercialization – reveals two salient facts: (1) rugby is the fastest because lacrosse, especially in DI, DII, and DIII colleges, has reached near saturation levels from years of spectacular expansion, and, (2) the growth of rugby is foremost among high schools (particularly, girls) and this does not translate into a profitable professional model of buying stadium tickets or viewing foreign professional matches on television.
The next twelve-months will reveal real world outcomes as follows:
- Aviva Premiership – September through spring 2017 (Viewership and ratings)
- The Rugby Channel – Annual – (Total subscriptions)
- Ireland vs. All Blacks and NZ Maoris vs. Eagles – November, Chicago (Attendance)
- Las Vegas Sevens and the Las Vegas Invitational – March, Las Vegas (Attendance)
- Pro Rugby Returns – Spring/Summer – Ohio, Denver, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego (And more cities?), (Attendance)
- College Rugby Sevens Championship – June, Philadelphia (Attendance)
- Pro 12 – Expansion into North America?
By Labor Day 2017, the picture will be clearer.