NFL stadia could double up as rugby venues


US Rugby World Cup Bid Image: World Rugby

NFL stadia (US) could soon be employed to stage a Rugby World Cup, should USA Rugby succeed in its attempt to host the men’s event in 2027 or 2031 and the women’s in 2029.

‘The Guardian’ stated that the American union is proceeding with its bid to host the fourth-biggest world sporting event following completion of a feasibility study.

USA Rugby is the national governing body for the sport of rugby union in the United States. Its role is to serve as “the national governing body charged with achieving and maintaining high levels of quality in all aspects of rugby”.

The Rugby World Cup is a men’s rugby union tournament contested every four years between the top international teams. The tournament was first held in 1987, when the tournament was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

Russia and Australia are also among bidders but according to well-placed sources, World Rugby may favor a money-making 2027 men’s World Cup in Australia followed by the US four years later.

World Rugby is the world governing body for the sport of rugby union. World Rugby organizes the Rugby World Cup every four years, the sport’s most recognized and most profitable competition.

‘The Guardian’ further stated that if so, the US may face stiff competition from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and are considering a joint bid as they attempt to make the financials robust once again which has been totally battered by COVID-19. The US, however, is a key market for expansion.

Asked about the notion of Australia ’27 followed by USA ’31, USA Rugby Chief Executive Ross Young, a former Rugby World Cup General Manager, observed, “There are multiple unions putting their hands 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 football World Cup (in the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026) and the Olympics (in Los Angeles in 2028). The longer runway we have, the more opportunity to be similar to Japan and try to make the team competitive.”

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 and play the British and Irish Lions next month. The US are ranked 16th and lost all their games in Japan.

The British & Irish Lions is a rugby union team selected from players eligible for the national teams of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland.

In July, the Eagles (US rugby team) will face England and Ireland. Twenty-two players in Gary Gold’s (Eagles coach) 30-man squad play in Major League Rugby (MLR), the professional US league now in its fourth season and involved in the World Cup bid. The games at Twickenham (UK) and in Dublin (Ireland) will be watched keenly.

Eagles are the United States men’s national rugby union team, representing United States in men’s international rugby union, and are controlled by USA Rugby.

Added Young, “What we’ve said is that we’d want the overall strategy of ’29 being linked to either ’27 or ’31, in an ideal scenario. So, I think as we go through this process, we will really delve into more detail about what our preferences are, you know, in this dialog with World Rugby. There’s no doubt we feel very confident that we will be able to successfully host ’27, ’29 and 2031.”

Jim Brown, a Utah-based executive who was Managing Director of the 2026 World Cup bid and before that Executive Director of competitions for FIFA, is Executive Chair of the US Rugby World Cup bid.

Describing the feasibility study, he stated, “We first reached out to key stakeholders, cities and stadiums, and groups like the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) and others who will be impacted by this. And our first way was just to see how interest levels were with those key stakeholders. 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 NFL New York Giants and New York Jets, capacity 82,500), every major stadium from an NFL standard.”

Rugby has been played at the 61,500-capacity American football and soccer stadium Soldier Field, the home of the NFL team Chicago Bears. Sold-out crowds of 62,000 watched New Zealand beat the US in 2014 and lose to Ireland in 2016. Rather fewer watched Ireland hammer Italy two years later.

Rugby World Cups are played in the northern hemisphere autumn. As that coincides with the NFL season, Brown said a US World Cup could also use major college venues including “the Rose Bowl Stadium (in Pasadena, California, capacity – 91,000, host of the 1994 and 1999 football World Cup finals), the Cotton Bowl Stadium (in Dallas, Texas, capacity – 92,100]” and the Legion Field Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, which holds 71,600.

Brown also said Major League Soccer venues were being considered “in case we determine matches would better be served in a smaller stadium. Each City is committed to flexibility there.”

Rugby World Cups often cross national boundaries. Young and Brown said the intent was to host in the US but Canadian venues have not been ruled out – particularly for 2029, which could see women’s games in Vancouver.

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