The IRB Sevens in Las Vegas may be proof that rugby has a future in the USA, with 30,000 turning up the Saturday.
Working Class Rugger, The Roar
The IRB’s faith in the opportunities to develop the game as a commercial entity in the United States has come to fruition in the form of 64,102 paying customers passing through the gates of last weekend’s Las Vegas stop of the IRB World Sevens Series.
Eclipsing last year’s previous record of just over 52,000, both USA Rugby and USA Sevens LLC (the business that purchased the rights to administer the event) have provided the strongest indicators yet that rugby can in time become a viable commercial entity on a national scale in the USA.
Expanding to a three day event this year to better align itself with NBC’s broadcasting requests, and after drawing a promising 10,200 on the Friday evening, Saturday achieved the largest ever Rugby related attendance in the USA – a touch over 30,000 spectators. This was solidified by a good overall turnout on Sunday.
If you add the 18,000 that turned up in Philadelphia for last year’s College Rugby Championship and the 3-4,000 that turned out to farewell the Eagles in Glendale, rugby in the United States has seen close to 100,000 paying and involved spectators turn out in just three events over a 12 month period.
Early days, yes, but certainly very promising.
ONE MILLION INDIVIDUALS
In addition, the Sport’s Goods Manufacturing Association produced a survey indicating that more than 1.1 million individuals, with over 300,000 of them being children, participated in rugby in the United States. Rugby is also experiencing growth through ever-evolving and improving college structures, an exploding high school scene and a burgeoning youth sector.
Rugby not only as a sport but as a product (which is paramount to its continued growth in the country) has and hopefully will continue to move forward in a marketplace seen as fundamentally key to the game’s competitive and commercial ambitions.
In addition to this very promising news, a few more very interesting and possibly game changing movements and plans are in the pipeline for the game in the USA (and in many respects Canada).
Firstly, in the days preceding the Las Vegas event, the Tier Two Nations that featured at the recent Rugby World Cup as well as a representative from the IRB met regarding future competitive structures to assist in bridging the gap to the Tier One Nations.
Details have emerged as to what the terms and plans that were agreed to thanks to an interview conducted with the IRB’s Development Manager Mark Egan and Rugbymag’s Alex Goff on the recent Ruggamatrix America podcast.
From next year, a June tournament will come online with the possibility of the resurrection of the Pacific Rim Championship, the precursor tournament to the Pacific Nations Cup. Good news in terms of providing the US with more competition on an annual basis.
Furthermore, in addition to this, both the US and Canada will from as early as this year receive a regular November test window in which to tour. They will very likely receive at least one major European power visiting, with Italy featuring this season and Ireland locked in for 2013.
These are all very exciting developments but not near as intriguing as the next two pieces.
The first, also within Egan’s interview came a few more tentative details regarding news of a potential 15s Professional Competition that I have previously posted about. Well, the IRB have been actively appraised on the development and from what Egan indicates, we will be seeing something very significant in the coming weeks.
Consider this and the talk from the hosts regarding the stature of those involved indicating men of significant means and this proposal appears to have legs in all the right areas.
The second piece also relates to a professional circuit in the US for Rugby, but, in this circumstance it relates to 7s only.
A few years ago, William Tatham Jr purchased the exclusive rights to administer any domestic professional 7s structures in the US from USARugby. Initial plans were to start such an ambitious venture in 2009, then 2010, but nothing eventuated.
Many could have been excused for thinking that the concept died a silent death. Well, it hasn’t.
Like the above developments, efforts are underway to launch the concept.
In Tatham’s case, this means adding the like of Phil Rothenberg to his board. Rothenberg is credited with transforming American Soccer prior to their hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the establishment of the current MLS structure for competition and ownership that has proven so successful for football in the United States.
Details regarding this group are expected very soon as well.
It’s been a huge few weeks following a very big year for the game domestically in the USA.
Add in the residency programs based out of the Chula Vista Olympic training facility for both men’s and women’s athletes, the incoming IRB Women’s 7s Circuit in which the women’s team is extremely competitive and the next few weeks and months could potentially eclipse even US Rugby’s best expectations.