World Rugby CEO Expects U.S. To Bid For RWC In '27 Or '31
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper believes the U.S. is likely to put up a "highly attractive" bid to host the Rugby World Cup in the near future, and he said that the demise of PRO Rugby after just one season has not tarnished the image of rugby in the market.
Gosper said that the sport's popularity in the U.S. is on the rise, despite "entrenched sporting viewership" of the NFL, MLB, the NBA and other leagues.
Int'l test matches in Chicago and Washington, DC, the U.S. hosting the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco in '18, qualification for next year’s Rugby World Cup and a first victory over top-tier side Scotland have helped increase the profile of rugby in the States.
Gosper believes USA Rugby will soon bid for the game’s flagship 15-a-side World Cup event.
"Whether the U.S. is ready to put up a great bid in 2027 or whether it’s 2031, eventually, we believe that the U.S. will put up a bid that will be highly attractive," he said. "I would be very surprised if the U.S. did not throw their hat in the ring. Why is [the U.S. hosting the RWC] attractive to World Rugby? Of course, it would generate very high values from that market in broadcast returns for us and that would be sustainable over time. World Rugby is quite heavily reliant on broadcast [revenues]."
Gosper said that a bid would "create more success for the national team" and broaden the footprint of rugby.
Japan is hosting next year’s World Cup followed by France in ‘23, so it is likely that the ‘27 World Cup will be outside of Europe.
But rugby has yet to break into the U.S. market. Its development in the country suffered a setback with the demise of PRO Rugby after just one season in ‘16, amidst a dispute over finances.
PRO Rugby Founder Doug Schoninger filed a lawsuit against USA Rugby claiming he was "conned" into investing $6M to launch the first professional club rugby club competition in North America.
But Gosper does not think the league’s demise has tarnished the image of rugby in the U.S.
Gosper is hopeful another new domestic league, Major League Rugby, which has a TV deal with CBS Sport, will be more successful, though he stopped short of saying he was "confident."
"We hope it’s a success," he said. "We do think they are sensible people going about this in a meticulous way with serious ambitions."
One example of the growth of popularity of rugby in the U.S., Gosper said, is the number of cities that have expressed an interest in hosting the future World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We are seeing interest from the major cities on the West and East Coast," he said. "San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, New York are the places that have shown an initial interest in hosting such an event. And Boston."
While the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco proved a good shop window for American fans, Gosper believes the team underperformed.
"I think the USA would have been quite disappointed with their showing in that versus actually how they have begun this World Series season," he said.
Despite the current momentum behind rugby in the U.S., which World Rugby says has a potential fan base of around 30 million people, Gosper admits that cracking the U.S. rugby market is a tough nut.
“The prize is fantastic," he said. "It’s also a very, very difficult market to break into because it's incredibly crowded and commercialized."