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The success in Chicago of the Test match between the All Blacks and Ireland last Saturday can be measured not only in a 62,300 full house of spectators inside Soldier Field but also in the estimated profit and revenue from the event for TLA, the operating entity. This game marked the second time New Zealand played on American soil to a full stadium, the last occasion, a pre-2015 World Cup game against the Eagles also at the same venue in November 2014, attracting a crowd then of 61,500.
For possible future internationals in the USA, are the All Blacks the only rugby draw to fill American stadiums of 50,000 plus? Or, are their other international marquee nations that could also attract sell outs?
When Australia played the Eagles at Soldier Field, also pre RWC 2015, the crowd was estimated at about 15,000, significantly less than the earlier and later All Black, Chicago matches. The two Maori vs. Eagles games in Philadelphia and Chicago attracted 18,000 in MLS stadiums with smaller capacities of 20,000 and 30,000 respectively,
Judgmentally, there are perhaps three premiere rugby fifteens that appeal to Americans, and which could generate high attendance in US stadiums; the All Blacks, Ireland, and England. The Irish can draw on a history of 38 million immigrants, many who retain an ancestral and cultural association with Erin, including sports. England is rugby; numbering historically, Rugby School, Rugby Football Union, and the sport’s mecca, Twickenham. Further, the US is filled with a large tally of ex-Pats from Great Britain who would attend an England match here even if their lineage was Welsh, Scottish, or from Northern Ireland.
The All Blacks competing against any side would probably fill an American stadium as the Kiwis do when they play abroad. When New Zealand announced in 2009 they would play Italy in Milan, the game was sold out within an hour, packing every seat in the 80,000 San Siro soccer stadium, home venue for Milan FC and A.C. Milan.
But what of matches in the USA from other top tier nations? Would Americans come in large numbers to watch Scotland versus Argentina? South Africa against Scotland? France play Australia? Italy meet Wales? Maybe not so much.
Finally, the past three big Tests have all been played in Chicago. A variable to factor in for future venues is whether big population cities (e.g.; Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.) with sizable local and ex-Pat rugby communities, would also fill 50,000 plus seat stadiums with a match between international sides whether marquee names or not?
(Part II on Thursday explores the P & L possibilities for operating an international in the United States.)