The summer Olympics will feature rugby sevens, which until recently, hasn’t had quite as much of a following in the U.S. – with the exception of one place: at the college club level.
According to the Web site Sport Techie, hundreds of schools have recently added rugby at what’s being referred to as the “high club” or intramural level. It doesn’t have varsity status, but it can still be eligible for funds from school programs for coaching and fundraising. It also has access to those schools’ sports facilities. And thanks to a huge social media campaign waged by college players and fans, demand for post-college play has been on the uptick.
And wow, is it popular. In fact, the 2016 Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships, the season-ending title for the Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens, was held in Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia and attracted almost 30,000 people. NBC even had broadcast rights to the game, considered the highlight of the college rugby season.
Now add another factor to the equation: the Professional Rugby Organization kicked off its season in April. PRO is a professional sports league and is the first type of competition to be sanctioned by USA Rugby and World Rugby, allowing it to sign international players. The league is counting on appealing to Millennials to help boost the sport overall. (The rationale: the sport appeals to this generation’s acceptance of disruptive technologies – and the sport has a strong digital game plan that should appeal to that demographic.)
So what can this mean to ASBA members? Potentially, a higher demand for fields as more schools (not just on the college level but below) start forming their own teams. It may also mean requests for additional marks on multi-use fields. In fact, simply calling to ask whether a college has considered adding rugby lines is a good enough reason for a check-in with a current customer.
The summer Olympics start in August. PRO finishes its inaugural season at the end of July. It isn’t unrealistic to think that by fall, rugby will be growing across the U.S.