The United States has long been the breeding ground for sports stars; but they have predominantly been within the fields of basketball, baseball and American Football. However, over recent years, the development of the USA as an emerging power in rugby has been slowly increasing. While the public are yet to take a warming to union; within league and sevens, the USA is invested.
A recent survey from the Nielsen research survey found that rugby was the fastest-growing sport in America; with over 33 million people interested or very interested in the game. Over the ten-year period that ended in 2016, the research found that the number of participants in the sport increased by one million people. USA Rugby has over 125,000 members that are playing in 2,673 clubs, and more than 900 college teams.
The similarities between American Football and Rugby League and sevens are apparent for all to see, and the overflow of the talent that doesn’t make the grade in the NFL quickly adjusts to the game. This has seen the quality of teams that the American’s can field on the international stages in both these codes become competitive, which is especially the case with sevens.
There have been multiple reports that the NFL may have to react to the growth; since American Football fans may be switching allegiance due to ongoing disputes in the NFL between players and politicians. This was further highlighted during the recent Las Vegas Sevens competition which is part of the HSBC World Rugby Series.
Aside from the fact that there were 80,000 fans in attendance throughout the weekend, there were also 3,000 players and 260 teams competing at nearby venues in an amateur competition. Furthermore, this was the largest ever rugby competition in North America. The one area where sevens will be looking to tap into is the NFL betting market, which is incredibly lucrative in the States. Should Sevens prove to be beneficial to gamblers then that could see the sport overtake America’s favourite pastime.
The American’s aren’t just there to make up the numbers either. In sevens, they are one of the dominating sides in the World Series and have already qualified for next summer’s Olympic Games. Not only that but they have won one stage in the series; including a win in front of their home fans in Las Vegas, which would inevitably increase popularity further by being successful. They are destined for a second-place finish behind the reigning Olympic champions Fiji.
By finishing second in the code, they will be finishing the series ahead of world rugby powers such as New Zealand, England and Australia. The financial benefit that will be awarded for their strong finish in the standings will be a welcome sight for USA Rugby, due to their tight budget. If they can throw more money at the sport, then they could eventually produce a steady crop of world players that would ensure dominance in the game.
The same can be said for rugby league. While they aren’t yet a competitive team in that code, they were able to at least qualify for the most recent World Cup in 2017. However, their showing in that competition was worse than their 2013 appearance where they finished top of their group before being knocked out by Australia.
The simple explanation for this was down to the competitive nature of the group most recently where they were forced to play against Italy and Fiji. A successful outing in the rugby league event could see that code skyrocket in popularity.
The success of union, however, seems more far-fetched. As we can already see from the popularity of established US sports such as basketball, hockey and American Football; their fan bases like quick action with limited breaks and that is something that is never going to change in rugby union.