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London Irish Fans in 2016 (RFU Championship)

In 2016, the American rugby community learned new and vital information for the first time, the average number of people attending a professional rugby game in the United States. That total for last year’s PRO RUGBY debut tallied 1,700 average. (Reportedly, 51,00 attendees in 30 games across five stadiums.)

How does this number compare with other professional leagues; rugby and otherwise? (Data from the last year reported).

Professional Rugby (Averages)

  • Aviva Premiership: England                          = 12,697
  • Super: NZ, SA, Aust.                                         = 19,163
  • Pro 12: Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy       =   8,789
  • Championship (2nd Tier): England            =   2,150
  • Japan Top                                                            =   6,470
  • Rugby League: NZ                                             = 16,074
  • Top 14: France                                                    = 13,708

USA Sports - Lesser Professional (Averages)

  • Minor League Baseball (Affiliated)               =   6,671
  • Major League Soccer                                         = 21,602
  • Major League Lacrosse                                    =   4,268

All comparisons are invidious, but one statistic merits attention, the average of the English Championship League. In Great Britain where 22% of the population “follows” rugby, the average attendance for the secondary, English pro rugby league was a paltry 2,150, only 450 more than the first year PRO RUGBY in the USA. The total included matches played by storied teams in the UK like London Welsh, Richmond, London Scottish, London Irish, and other well-known clubs.

Notice that the club average increases 10,000 attendees per match when rising to the Aviva Premiership, home to the top professional teams in England like Saracens, Wasps, Leicester, and Harlequins.

Of note also is that the English RFU funded each of these 12 Championship League teams £500,000 (or $620,000) to keep the clubs afloat since gate receipts were so low.

So, 1,700 attendees in 2016 watching professional rugby in the USA for the first time. Benchmark? Milestone? What?