Rugby Union in The United States - Growing Popularity

Growing Popularity

More than 98,000 people are registered members of USA Rugby. The numbers of registered rugby members are highest in California, New York and Pennsylvania. On a per-person basis, rugby membership is highest in New England and in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and Utah.

Rugby participation in the US has grown significantly in recent years, growing by 350% between 2004 and 2011. By 2010, the number of registered players in the US had grown to over 81,000, moving the US ahead of traditional rugby powers Wales and Scotland in terms of playing numbers. A 2010 survey by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association ranked rugby as the fastest growing sport in the US.

Rugby's profile in the US has received a tremendous boost from the IOC's announcement in 2009 that rugby would return to the Olympics in 2016. USA Rugby has formally become a member of the US Olympic Committee, allowing rugby players and programs access to Olympic resources.

Rugby's recent Olympic status has meant increased TV exposure. Rugby came onto NBC's radar when it was announced in 2009 that the sport would be admitted into the Olympics. NBC has begun broadcasting several rugby tournaments on network TV, particularly rugby sevens tournaments, considered a television friendly format. NBC has shown the Collegiate Rugby Championship each year since 2010. NBC has also broadcast the USA Sevens tournament each year since 2011. Roughly 5.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2011 USA Sevens, helping increase awareness of the sport of rugby. Viewership for the 2012 USA Sevens on NBC earned successful ratings (0.7), beating the ratings for an NHL match (0.4) and five college basketball games (0.1-0.3) played that same weekend. NBC also broadcast several matches from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, marking the first time the Rugby World Cup on broadcast live on TV in the US, and NBC will broadcast matches from the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

In addition to NBC broadcasting rugby on network TV, cable channels have begun broadcasting an increasing amount of rugby. Fox shows English Premiership, Pro12 and Heineken Cup matches on Fox Soccer Plus. ESPN shows French Top 14 on its ESPN3 channel. And BBC America shows select matches from the Six Nations tournament.

Attendance at rugby matches and tournaments has grown significantly in recent years. Attendance for the USA Sevens tournament has grown steadily from 15,800 in 2004, to 52,000 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas in 2011. The 2011 College Premier Division national championship match between Cal and BYU drew a crowd of 11,000 at Rio Tinto Stadium. A friendly match between the US and Ireland in 2009 drew 10,000 fans to Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, and a friendly match between the US and Italy in 2012 drew over 17,000 fans to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

There are 32,754 males and 11,790 females playing senior-level rugby union. There are over 34,000 high school athletes playing rugby union for their schools or U19 clubs (26,212 male and 8,706 female). There are over 2,200 pre-teens currently playing organized rugby union (1,988 male and 228 female). With over 20,000 registered females in USA Rugby, the US has more female rugby players than any other country in the world.

11 teams are entered in the premier domestic competition, the Rugby Super League, for 2011. There are 1,582 referees within USA Rugby.

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