‘The Rugby World Cup is on!’ says basically nobody in America

Rugby is a global phenomenon and economic powerhouse that evades Americans’ interest.

OK, let’s get this straight:

Graph of viewership of Rugby World Cup vs Summer Olympics 2021
  • A field. A ball.
  • Running and kicking.
  • Aggression.
  • So. Much. Aggression.
  • Ripped dudes wearing mouth guards.

That all sounds like American catnip, yet many US sports fanatics won’t even realize the Rugby World Cup, which contains all of the above and is ongoing in France this month, even happened.

Kinda weird, right?

The Rugby World Cup, held every four years, self-identifies as the world’s third-largest sports event, following the Olympics and FIFA World Cup.

Its powerhouse 2019 edition showed why, per Bloomberg:

  • ~1.8m tickets were sold.
  • 800m+ global TV viewers tuned in.
  • It generated ~$5B in economic activity.

Sport and spectacle are pillars of American culture (we’ve covered just how NFL-crazy this country is), and yet… crickets.

Making the RWC’s lack of draw stranger? Rugby isn’t unpopular in the US:

  • 100k+ Americans play across 2.5k+ clubs, per USA Rugby.
  • There are 900+ college teams nationwide.

So, any potential here?

Maybe, but the climb will be steep.

Worldwide, 44.9m fans watched the 2019 RWC final. Stateside, NBC Sports was thrilled to pull in 659k of them. For context:

  • The audience for the average regular-season NFL game last season was 25x larger.
  • Soccer has also struggled for relevance in the US, yet 25.8m Americans tuned in to the 2022 FIFA World Cup final.

And the ratings may get worse before they get better — in a first since 1995, the US team didn’t qualify for the current tournament.

Here’s the rub…

… The US will soon host the Rugby World Cup — both the 2031 men’s tournament and the 2033 women’s tournament. It’ll be awfully awkward if US stadiums sit empty while global fans clamber to partake in the games.

The hail mary: A youth governing body wants to “inspire a rugby revolution” by 2031 and get 1m American kids out on the… field? Pitch? (Look, we’re guilty here, too.)

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