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Now start the drumbeats from home and abroad (mostly, the latter) that USA Rugby should consider a bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. This represents an out of sort’s proposal not based on reality. The artificial belief persists that rugby in the USA is a sleeping giant that only needs a global kiss to awaken it and generate millions of dollars from first-class, American-based rugby events
In essence, bidding for the 2027 RWC it is not an idea whose time has come because:
1. Low National Interest in the Sport
Foremost among the many relevant reasons not to tender a RWC bid is the overwhelming fact that rugby in America is a niche sport without widespread national awareness or appeal. When examining the interest in rugby compared to traditional American-played sports, the number of players and fans remains low. The low total hardly supports the time or investment to win the rights to operate a major, high profile global sports tournament. The net conclusion is that there are not enough rugby fans in the country.
Does anyone perceive that the Men's XV Eagles are recognized nationally? Do they rise to the level of a supported brand at a recognition level that approximates, for example, the USA Women’s Soccer team?
2. The Player Data Do Not Champion A Bid
Every recent reference quotes the same misleading finding that "Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the United States." True. But this is a disingenuous statistic because it does not address the detail that all other team sports in the country had already reached maturity, which left rugby as the last sport to expand. Currently, there are approximately 3,500 clubs in the USA, numbering high school, university, city-based, and senior teams for Women and Men. Much of the past ten-years of team expansion has come in the high school ranks, especially, among girls. But there is no evidence of any significant growth among the other segments that experienced major increases in decades past.
The NY Times referenced a research statistic that last year 1.2 million people "played" rugby. Nowhere was it stated that this number probably included youth no touch or flag rugby that inflated the total. Assume that each of the 3,500 clubs has 100 members (a high estimate) who played a game of real fifteens or sevens rugby in 2017. That equates to 350,000 players of one game played. Where did the other 900,000 players come from?
3. Past Low Attendance of Internationals' Matches
Specifically, the probability is low that Americans - even ardent rugby fans - would fill 12-regional stadiums to view the RWC's pool and playoff games. The only past occasions that USA Test matches surpassed 20,000 plus attendees occurred twice in Chicago when the All Blacks played contests against the Eagles, and later, versus Ireland. The recent June Test match in Washington, DC between South Africa and Wales - historically, two well known rugby-playing nations - did not generate 20,000 attendees in RFK Stadium (Capacity: 46,000). How many people in the USA would pay money to attend a rugby game when Namibia play Romania? How many will line up to buy tickets to watch Georgia meet Samoa at rugby?
4. Seasonal Competition and Stadium Availability
The autumn RWC calendar in the USA is also a time of weekly college and professional football. So where can the stadiums be found to host these rugby matches? Could NFL or College football stadiums expand width to accommodate the right sized rugby pitch? More importantly, would these sites rearrange their fall schedules to mount a World Cup match?
Facts: The average stadium attendance for the 2015 RWC in England was 56,600 (13 stadiums with an average capacity of 47,500). And these venues included two London stadiums with over 80,000 seats at Wembley and Twickenham. Japan in 2019 will stage the RWC in 12 stadiums with an average capacity of 37,800.
Major League Soccer offers only five stadiums with a capacity of over 25,000.
5. Sevens Preference, Sevens Attendance
Rugby sevens events in the USA illustrate the consistent attendance-generating appeal of this fast-paced style of rugby. Foremost is the USA Sevens in Las Vegas in March that has become a signature triumph, attracting many thousands of attendees annually. Hosting the Las Vegas Invitational that attracts over 275 clubs, playing fifteens and sevens boosts its popularity. In addition, the televised Penn Mutual Insurance College Rugby Championship in Philadelphia every June highlights the best of college sevens rugby for Men and Women.
The takeaway is that sevens flowers and realizes itself in the USA as a popular fan and player event. Judgmentally, there does not appear to be a transfer of a similar commercial interest in the fifteens’ game.
The Rugby World Cup Sevens last week in San Francisco attracted over 100,000 people, a fine achievement for a rugby event in the United States. Why anticipate that a three-day sevens event in a destination city would translate to similar high attendance for a three-week, lower interest rugby fifteens' tournament dispersed around a vast country?
(Saturday. Reasons six through ten for the USA Not to Bid for the 2017 Rugby World Cup.)