Today’s guest columnist is Jim Brown, executive chairman of the USA Rugby World Cup Bid Committee.
Having secured the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Summer Olympic Games, the United States has an incredible opportunity over the upcoming years to once again demonstrate our ability to create common ground through athletics. And that opportunity can be enhanced by landing premier events in yet another global sport: rugby.
The United States is in advanced discussions to host the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup, opening the door to additional major international sporting events on U.S. soil and transformative opportunities for the sport in North America. With the U.S. in a targeted dialogue phase with World Rugby since late 2021, rugby’s international governing body and other key leaders are realizing that the moment is right for the U.S. to embrace rugby and welcome a Rugby World Cup.
For more than 30 years, my career has revolved around international sporting events. Having been a part of six men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups and four Olympics, and having served as executive director of competitions for FIFA, I have had the pleasure of seeing large-scale sporting events leave a lasting impact on fans and culture. The opportunity to exponentially grow a sport like rugby and introduce this wonderful game to millions across the U.S. is the most exciting opportunity I’ve been involved in yet.
The United States’ Rugby World Cup bid is a first of its kind, as we’ve developed a concept to host both the men’s and women’s tournaments consecutively. Women’s rugby and the women’s sporting landscape have seen remarkable growth in the past decade, and the upcoming Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is projected to break engagement and viewership records. That trajectory, combined with the dedicated support, culture and history the U.S. has with regard to women’s competitions, presents an unparalleled opportunity for rugby and women’s sports overall.
Just as the 1994 and 1999 FIFA World Cups introduced a new audience to soccer and catalyzed its incredible domestic growth since, a U.S.-hosted Rugby World Cup may also yield monumental growth for American rugby. It’s no secret that American rugby has a ways to go, with an extensive growth plan required to see commercial success in 10 years. I remember the same was said ahead of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which ultimately became the most attended World Cup to date.
Despite the crowded U.S. sports landscape, Americans’ passion for rugby is real. According to research from Nielsen, rugby is already the fastest growing sport in the United States, and in a recent YouGov poll, 80% of sports fans said they support the United States hosting a Rugby World Cup. The potential is right in front of us.
A U.S.-hosted Rugby World Cup is also smart business. American sports fans may not realize that the men’s Rugby World Cup ranks as the third largest sporting event in the world behind the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics. Rugby boasts more than 405 million fans globally, and the quadrennial tournament typically sees between 150,000 and 410,000 international travelers visit the host nation to experience the games. The 2019 Rugby World Cup yielded more than $5 billion in economic impact, and estimates suggest a U.S.-hosted men’s event could see up to 3.1 million supporters attend matches.
Currently, 28 American cities are working alongside our bid committee to advance plans for hosting men’s and/or women’s Rugby World Cup matches. Cities involved in the bid include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Sport can be a powerful symbol of strength, hope and unity in our country and around the world, and rugby’s inclusive and celebratory culture makes it an even stronger force for good. We believe hosting Rugby World Cup tournaments can and should be the next step for American sports—a natural opportunity to grow the game at home and abroad by showcasing the world’s best competition on the biggest stage and uniting fans and athletes from across the globe.
Brown is a sports event management professional with experience across the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympic Games.