Los Angeles (AFP) – World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper believes this year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco could ignite interest in the sport across America, raising the possibility of a US bid for the 15-a-side World Cup in 2027.
Wednesday marks the 100-day countdown to the seventh edition of rugby’s four-yearly sevens spectacular, which will be staged at San Francisco’s iconic AT&T Park baseball stadium from July 20-22.
Gosper told AFP in an interview that ticket sales for the three-day event had already reached the 60,000 level, and World Rugby is anticipating a sell-out for the opening day.
The tournament is being staged as rugby enjoys a surge in popularity in the United States, buoyed by the success of the men’s sevens team and greater exposure of the sport than ever before.
NBC television will broadcast the World Cup Sevens, and in recent years has begun live broadcasts of English Premiership rugby and the Six Nations.
Recent research commissioned by World Rugby found there were an estimated 33 million rugby fans in the United States who described themselves as either very interested or interested in the sport.
Gosper believes July’s tournament in California can be a “game-changer” for rugby in the United States.
“It’s something that can ignite the sport in the US,” he told AFP. “We know there is latent support for rugby in the United States.
“So seeing rugby almost normalised in an American context, in an iconic American stadium, with free-to-air coverage on NBC television, promoted by NBC, I think will be quite a game-changer for the sport.
“We’re realistic. It’s only three days. And you can’t change the world in three days. But you can light something and create a detonator for greater things later. It will give people more confidence to host more events in America.”
– ‘Sooner rather than later’ –
That something could conceivably be a bid for rugby’s greatest tournament, the World Cup.
The next edition of the tournament will take place in Japan in 2019, with France hosting the 2023 event.
Gosper believes that an American bid for 2027 is by no means outside the realms of possibility.
“There is a general belief across the people running the sport that America’s time will come, probably sooner rather than later,” Gosper said.
“We know that we’ve got a World Cup in Japan in 2019, we’re going to France in 2023. Is 2027 a possibility? I don’t think that’s out of the question.
“They’ll have to go some to get there. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be candidates in 2027.”
A successful World Cup in Japan next year — the first time the tournament has been staged outside of its traditional markets — could give a powerful jolt of momentum for an American bid, Gosper said.
“A big success in a country like Japan would be noticed by other non-traditional markets,” Gosper said. “It would be hugely inspiring for other tier-two markets, like the United States, to attempt a similar undertaking.”
Meanwhile, Gosper said the format used at this year’s World Cup Sevens — a straight knockout competition featuring 24 teams which was designed with an American audience in mind — could eventually be introduced across World Rugby’s HSBC Sevens Circuit.
“Each game counts, which we know is something more interesting for the Americans,” Gosper said. “I wouldn’t call it a trial but it’s likely that this format moves into the general HSBC Sevens series in the next cycle.
“We think it’s a really attractive format which was kind of designed for the American public. The more we look at it we think it could have merit in our general series.”