Economics

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What Does the U.S. Stand to Gain by Hosting the Rugby World Cup?

17 Jun, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Rugby has been on the cusp of growth in the U.S., with the NCAA listing it among its Emerging Sports for Women and increasing popularity at the college level – not to mention the sport’s presence in the Olympics. Now, USA Rugby has upped the ante, saying it will bid on hosting the Rugby World Cup.

The news broke on June 10 with the announcement that the U.S. had been formally accepted by World Rugby as a bid candidate to host Rugby World Cup 2027, 2029 and/or 2031. This followed a feasibility study that began in August 2020 and the World Rugby Dialogue Phase.

Bid proposals are due in January of 2022 and the U.S. intends to be ready.

 “Putting our hand up to host a Rugby World Cup is a benchmark for the game in America,” noted USA Rugby CEO and former General Manager to Rugby World Cup, Ross Young. “However, the exciting stages are just now beginning as the stakeholder group continues into campaign planning

According to the announcement, the U.S. will bid on the 2027 and 2031 men’s competition, along with the 2029 women’s competition. As analysis continues, potential for a combined bid of both the men’s and women’s competitions will be studied as well.

And while it is too soon to say exactly which venues will be on the final bid, some ideas have come to the fore, according to The Stadium Business. Apparently, multiple properties are interested in hosting, including more than 30 major NFL, college football and Major League Soccer (MLS) venues.

Jim Brown, who helped orchestrate the so-called United Bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup noted that USA Rugby first reached out to venues to gauge interest. “And we got a resounding positive reaction. We’re at around 30 host cities that are interested and a little over 30 major stadiums that are interested … and these are the big stadiums: MetLife, New York (home to the Giants and Jets), every major stadium from an NFL standard.”

Brown said a US World Cup could also use major college venues including the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; Cotton Bowl in Dallas; and Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. He added that MLS venues were being considered “in case we determine matches would better be served in a smaller stadium. Each city is committed to flexibility there.”

Of course, this brings up the next question: Who is the USA’s competition in the bid wars?

The Stadium Business says that Australia and Russia are also among the bidders for the 2027 Rugby World Cup, with a joint bid from the four unions in the UK and Ireland said to be considering a proposal for the 2031 tournament. The Guardian newspaper, citing well-placed sources, said World Rugby could be in favor of placing a 2027 RWC in Australia, followed by a 2031 event in the U.S., considered a developing market for rugby.

The later date might actually be preferable, Young noted to reporters at the Irish Times, since it would allow for more of a build-up.

“The first phase of this candidate phase is to dig down into preferences. And from our side there are strengths and weaknesses of ‘27 being between the [FIFA] World Cup in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028. The longer runway we have, the more opportunity to be similar to Japan and try to make the team competitive.”

The reference he’s making in the last sentence: Japan was a tier-two team before hosting a hugely successful 2019 World Cup where they reached the quarter-finals. They now rank 10th in the world. Presently, the U.S. is ranked 16th – and has lost all its games against Japan.

With so much up in the air, it is impossible to make projections regarding hotel room night use or economic impact; most of the countries that have hosted view rugby as a far more mainstream sport – although if you want to compare it to Japan’s hosting experience, it’s still obviously an excellent piece of business: according to Kyodo News, the 2019 Rugby World Cup far exceeded predictions made before the event, generating a record-breaking $6.1 billion for the host nation.

An article in the South China Morning Post quoted a report from Ernst & Young’ that showed the 2019 event had the highest-ever economic impact in Rugby World Cup history, with an economic spillover of $5.39 billion and a GDP increase of $2.93 billion. (Want another mind-blowing statistic? It outpaced the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England which had $2.88 billion in economic output and $1.38 billion GDP increase).

Not bad for a second-tier city. USA Rugby may be onto something.

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