Rugby New York’s Will Tucker gets a line-out in the second half against the Seattle Seawolves during the Major League Rugby Championship at Red Bull Arena on June 25 in Harrison, NJgetty images
With everyone talking about sports betting, crypto bugs, NFTs, fantasy sports leagues, Zoom fatigue and all things digital, we wanted to bring readers back to an exciting development that’s just starting to move in traditional sports.
You remember those old-fashioned human-to-human confrontations on the field, right? Before avatars with colored skins decided everything?
We’ve previously written columns on “what to watch” (remember our errant endorsement of American football in India?). Fortunately, most of our futuristic pieces have been accurate, including the rise of esports, a growing NHL and, wait for it… Formula One.
This column is a little different, though, as we’re talking about a sport that’s way down the charts in North America and one that was better classified as nothing more than niche a decade ago.
What “code” are we talking about? I’m glad you asked. It’s rugby.
Or more specifically, rugby union, the game “made in heaven” (at least according to our friends in the British Commonwealth).
That is correct. The game was invented at the school of rugby in England and more recently perfected by countries (in different styles) such as South Africa, France, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
The game that Peter Kenneth Nduati pointed out on Quora can be played by anyone, as it has “positions for short and stocky, tall and thin, heavy sets, strong, agile, jumpers, sprinters.” In addition, “the whole team defends and also attacks, [plus] anyone can score.”
Like soccer (soccer) benefiting from the United States hosting the 1994 (and soon) 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America, World Rugby, the international federation responsible for the sport globally, wants let America get better at the game. So it announced in May that the Men’s World Cup will be held in the United States in 2031, and the Women’s World Cup just two years later.
This strategic decision by World Rugby (a board that plans to make a major investment in the US rugby ecosystem) should elevate the game more than many might expect, while providing a much-needed boost to Major League Rugby , the 13 teams and two countries. competition based in Dallas.
First, unlike its cousin, NFL football, rugby has a vibrant and growing women’s game, with this version leading to global formalization, growth and expansion. Add to that Rugby Sevens, the fewer-player (but faster, more open) version of the game that has enjoyed considerable success in its early days as an Olympic sport.
Second, like its NFL cousin, Americans seem to really like rugby. This version of soccer features hard (but controlled/restricted) contact, is full of genetically gifted passing, kicking, and team-oriented athletes, so that some days the game looks more like a twin than a a cousin
Third, given America’s late adoption of the game, the US is not a global giant, meaning achievements will not come easily and anything the US eventually “wins” will have been earned, not given . Counterintuitively, this reality may cause a new generation of Americans to view the game as young or contemporary and not traditional/old as they increasingly view baseball.
Perhaps best of all (and intentionally revisiting point #2 above) the growth of the women’s XV (15 players on an initial roster) creates another women’s team sport and effectively provides high schools and colleges with opportunities improved to balance the funding historically placed behind the grill men.
Translation: Rugby represents a great opportunity for Title IX advocates to support women in all sports, but especially soccer.
It is also an opportunity for the IOC/Olympics to expand beyond sevens and bring rugby to the Summer Games in Brisbane 2032. Australians love rugby and the sport was played in Olympic competition four times (1900 , 1908, 1920, 1924) with gold medals won by France, Australasia (players from Australia and New Zealand) and twice by the United States.
Perhaps even more interesting to behold is how quickly technology will advance in rugby’s next decade. Building an American professional league from the ground up (riding a wave of nationalistic promotion) allows rugby to use cutting-edge technology to shape its own success. Already, in places like Australia, the British company Sportable Technologies is experimenting with chips inserted into game balls. This data will give rugby fans countless stats to ponder and bet on.
As we move into 2031 and 2033, the analytics capabilities to measure performance should be mind-blowing… just as we enter 6G streaming, virtual reality proximity, holographic enhancements, and intelligence artificial (all in the early stages of development).
To all of the above, we say that American sportsmen should join the ruck and stand aside while the rugby real estate ecosystem is affordable.
Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly is the Dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Maine. His most recent book, “Business the NHL Way: Lessons from the Fastest Game on Ice,” will be published by the University of Toronto Press in early October.