North, South, East, West: Who Watches Rugby Best?

Americans crave hard-hitting and fast paced sporting action. The NFL has Americans engrossed in its weekly games from September to the Super Bowl in February, the peak of sporting spectacles. However, America has room for one more ferocious sport. Rugby is a sleeping giant in America waiting to be awakened, and there are facts to prove it.

Rising Youth Participation

The sport of rugby has been loved worldwide since its organized inception in 1823, but took a while to catch on in the United States. The rules, style and culture were so different than any American sport that the game struggled to compete against sports like football. However, participation and interest are rising tremendously. According to USA Rugby, over five million kids have participated in the game of rugby over the last five years (Mandell). This vast participation has included a 14% year-over-year climb, signifying the rising participation and exposure the sport has had on the youth of America (Giles).

Increased Viewership

This rise in participation has had an immediate impact on viewership numbers. Due to the game’s presence being larger than it ever has, the desire and availability to watch matches in person and on television has grown immensely. Since 2009 NBC has aired rugby matches and with the addition of the sport to the 2016 Olympic Games, the amount of televised matches will be the most in the sport’s American history (Giles). Surprisingly, the highest percentage of viewers of the sport live in the southern United States as the below figures indicate.

Rugby TV Viewing Percent by Region
Northeast 12.3%
North Central 18.7%
South 39.8%
West 29.3%
Total 100
Source: SBRNet

Additionally, attendance for live matches has increased just as television ratings have. Most notably, an exhibition match between the USA and the All Blacks of New Zealand saw Soldier Field in Chicago packed with 62,000 fans in attendance last November (Giles). With large attendance and such high viewing numbers on television, especially in the football-crazed South, rugby has begun to gain a footing in the United States.

Global Exposure

Similar to how the global exposure of the FIFA World Cup has helped the game of soccer grow in America, the upcoming Rugby World Cup has potential to do the same. The tournament, hosted every four years, is currently set to kickoff in September. Nothing excites an American fan base like competing against other nations, examples being recent World Cups and Olympic Hockey. Coming in with a strong team, currently ranked 16th in the world, the U.S. has strong potential to perform well in the tournament and help grow the sport domestically. Leading up to the tournament, the team has a tune-up at home to show the country just how entertaining and talented the team is against stacked English club opponent Harlequins. Between a home match against one of the most talented club teams in the world, and the competition of the World Cup, the global exposure of rugby is destined to help the sport blossom in the states.

This blog was written by Samford University student Graham Lehman. You can learn more about Graham Lehman at: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=384349900&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile.

Sources:

Giles, Justin. The Spectrum. “Rugby Continues to be America’s Fastest Growing

Sport.” Retrieved from:

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/sports/2014/11/10/rugby-continues-

americas-fastest-growing-sport/18830397/

Mandell, Nina. For The Win. “Ex-NFL are Putting there Dreams into Rugby, and a

League that doesn’t yet Exist.” Retrieved from:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/01/nrfl-rugby-usa

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