As sports go, rugby fans may be among the most passionate, but in the U.S., they also rank in smaller numbers than several other sports.
But those who love the sport, and those who look at numbers for a living, see the sport growing in popularity, with room for even more growth to come.
This October, the rugby community hopes the sport will be taking a step forward when the New Zealand All Blacks come to FedEx Field to face the U.S. national team.
In terms of brand awareness, sales and the like, the All Blacks are right up there with Manchester United from England’s Premiere League, or the Dallas Cowboys.
“The All Blacks are the most successful sports franchise in the world of any sport,” said Andrew Douglass, the coach of D.C.’s foray into professional rugby, Old Glory DC. “I guess you’re looking at legacies, like the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, that sort of legacy.”
So, like the Yankees, but with more winning.
“Those brands go to other parts of the world,” said Ross Young, the CEO of USA Rugby. “If you ask anybody in any country that knows anything about sports, name a rugby team, the first team would be the New Zealand All Blacks because of the iconic nature … the all black uniform, and the heritage and the fact that it’s almost a religion in its home country.”
So even in a pandemic, it’s expected this will generate a lot of money for the D.C. region. It’s estimated about 2 million rugby players and fans are within a five-hour drive of D.C., and this will be the first time since 2014 that the All Blacks have come to the U.S.
“Anybody who plays All Blacks is going to attract people from all over the country,” said Greg O’Dell, the president of Events DC. “I would say typically in a non-COVID environment attract people from all over the world.”
But even if that’s not the case this time, he said, “It’s still going to be in the millions of dollars in economic impact for having people go to our hotels and certainly restaurants as well.”