This year has seen the dawn of a new day in the history of rugby in America – not only in Sevens, but in the Union and League forms of the game as well.
There will be high hopes later in the year that the American team can finally get out of their World Cup pool for the first time, but to do so they will have to win more than one game; something that they haven’t managed to do in eight previous attempts.
The development of the game has been remarkable, but the next stage of that is being able to compete with the leading powers in the world. However, it is undoubtedly the best time to be a rugby fan in the USA. Since the World Cup in 2015, the USA has reached a best-ever ranking of 12th in the world – currently sitting at 15th though – and went on a nine-match winning streak in the process.
It’s not only the international side of the game that the development is taking place either. Much like the progression of soccer in the USA, the launch of their own league has been a roaring success.
This was initially threatened after the first plans fell through after just one season, but the revamped Major League Rugby is now in its second season and boasts nine teams, with three more joining next season. Union is just taking off but interest in the sport couldn’t be higher at present.
In Sevens, the USA men’s side are ranked among the best with New Zealand and reigning Olympic Champions Fiji, while the women are also ranked very highly. The Las Vegas leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series has highlighted interest in the sport is undoubtedly there, with over 80,000 fans attending the competition over that weekend. The Olympic Games will be next for the Sevens team, and the USA will have a high chance of securing a gold medal.
The popularity of the sport can always be seen in the options that are available to fans on television. In this sector, the sport is exploding with the Americas Rugby Championship, World Sevens Series, Six Nations and the English Premiership all on cable. Meanwhile, much like the American Football schedule, the college games are also televised nowadays through high-quality online streams.
There are deep ties between Americans and rugby as they would remember the times that they have played rugby throughout their life; with many colleges including the sport in their curriculums due to the values in the game. The relationship between the people and the sport is always there, and it’s only now that they are tapping into this.
The options for watching games on the television and making it more accessible has been one of the most critical factors of the steady growth that it has enjoyed. There are no more dodgy streams or entry fees required; since most competitions are on the schedule of popular sports networks such as ESPN and CBS; which the average American sports fan would already have for the NFL, NBA or NHL.
The USA is often called one of the sleeping giants of the rugby world, and if they would take it seriously, then it could be damaging to the world order. The links between American football and rugby are undeniable, and there is a crossover of skills that would benefit the team, but money does talk, and the best players aren’t likely to sacrifice the chance of earning millions in the NFL until rugby is established in the country.
However, the theory is a seductive one and one day that could happen. But the steady progression keeps fans engrossed in the action. At present, it is as unlikely as the Atlanta Falcons being favourites to win the Super Bowl in the NFL betting markets or as the USA winning the World Cup of soccer, but someday that could change.
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