Next week, US President Joe Biden will write to World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont to confirm his government’s support for the largest-ever men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups.
The United States’ application for the 2031 men’s and 2033 women’s World Cups is poised to be approved at a council meeting on May 12 after entering a phase of “exclusive targeted dialogue” with World Rugby last year.
“Joe Biden’s administration is leading the charge to ensure that we meet the commitments to World Rugby that are required, along with a commitment from the president himself,” Joe Brown, the chair of the US bid, told the UK’s Telegraph Sport.
“A letter from the president is going to both Bill Beaumont and World Rugby in the next 10 days or so committed to full support of the event from the federal government.”
“There were a lot of people who had a lot of doubt that the United States could host a [football] World Cup first of all and second of all be able to fill all these huge stadiums,” Brown said. “In fact the United States [in 1994] is still the largest spectator World Cup in history, even though it was still a 24-team tournament back then.
“Our view is to really sell the World Cup as a major event in the United States, which it deserves, and call it a mega event in some cases. We expect to be able to at least start with the vision of playing in these large NFL-type stadiums that will, I think, add a dimension to the Rugby World Cup that hasn’t been seen before.”
Getting people to buy tickets is only half the game. The US men’s team hosted New Zealand last October, drawing a crowd of over 40,000 in Washington DC to witness a 104-14 thrashing. In some ways, the outcome was unsurprising considering that the All Blacks were at full strength and the US had not played a match in two years. According to Ross Young, the chief executive of USA Rugby, regular access to top-tier opposition is critical to their objective of becoming more than competitive hosts.
“The San Francisco accord gives tier-two unions like us two tier-one games in a four year time,” Young said. “How are you going to compete in a World Cup when that’s your preparation? How do you drive commercial revenues to support that? So it’s a conundrum, but having that North Star with a 10-year pathway with Men’s and Women’s World Cups coming here; that’s a huge driver for us.
“Japan [in 2019] managed to unlock more opportunities by being a host, including high performance funding. We want to try and do the same.”
World Rugby is considering a targeted investment program in the country over the next ten years, while gaining recognition by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which controls college sports funding, would be revolutionary. Young returns to football, focusing on how the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which the United States won as hosts, reinforced soccer’s place in the American athletic psyche.
“There are so many lessons there,” Young said. “Within the rankings of the women’s games, we’re always in the top four or five so it’s almost a no brainer to use that success to drive things with the men’s side of it following suit.”
As much as the United States will benefit from hosting the tournament, rugby union will benefit far more from breaking into the world’s largest sporting market. Young believes the Six Nations television rights would “expand enormously,” while Brown feels the players will have the potential to position themselves as global superstars.
“The sport is really untapped on many levels,” Brown said. “Right now the players are probably not known or well recognised here in the United States. From a market standpoint as soon as they can tap into the United States, their profile is going to explode.”