NFL stadiums could soon be used in a Rugby World Cup, should USA Rugby succeed in its bid to host the men’s event in 2027 or 2031 and the women’s in 2029.
The American union is proceeding with its bid to host the fourth-biggest world sporting event, after completing a feasibility study reported by the Guardian last year.
Russia and Australia are also among bidders but according to well-placed sources, World Rugby may favour a money-making 2027 men’s World Cup in Australia followed by the US four years later.
If so the US may face competition from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who the Guardian revealed to be considering a joint bid as they attempt to rebuild finances battered by Covid-19. The US, however, is a key market for expansion.
Asked about the notion of Australia ’27 followed by USA ’31, USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young, a former Rugby World Cup general manager, told the Guardian: “There are multiple unions putting their hands up.
“The first phase of this candidate phase is to dig down into preferences. And from our side there are strengths and weaknesses of ’27 being between the football World Cup [in the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026] and the Olympics [in Los Angeles in 2028].
“The longer runway we have, the more opportunity to be similar to Japan and try to make the team competitive.”
Japan were a tier-two team before hosting a hugely successful 2019 World Cup where they reached the quarter-finals. They now rank 10th in the world and play the British and Irish Lions next month. The US are ranked 16th and lost all their games in Japan.
In July, the Eagles will face England and Ireland. Twenty-two players in Gary Gold’s 30-man squad play in Major League Rugby, the professional US league now in its fourth season and involved in the World Cup bid. The games at Twickenham and in Dublin will be watched keenly.
Young said: “What we’ve said is that we’d want the overall strategy of ’29 being linked to either ’27 or ’31, in an ideal scenario.
“So, I think as we go through this process, we will really delve into more detail about what our preferences are, you know, in this dialogue with World Rugby. There’s no doubt we feel very confident that we could successfully host ’27, ’29 and 2031.”
Jim Brown, a Utah-based executive who was managing director of the 2026 World Cup bid and before that executive director of competitions for Fifa, is executive chair of the US Rugby World Cup bid.
Describing the feasibility study, he said: “We first reached out to key stakeholders, cities and stadiums, and groups like NFL and Major League Soccer and others who will be impacted by this. And our first way was just to see how interest levels were with those key stakeholders.
“And we got a resounding positive reaction. We’re at around 30 host cities that are interested and a little over 30 major stadiums that are interested … and these are the big stadiums: MetLife, New York [home to the Giants and Jets, capacity 82,500], every major stadium from an NFL standard.”
Rugby has been played at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. Sold-out crowds of 62,000 watched New Zealand beat the US in 2014 and lose to Ireland in 2016. Rather fewer watched Ireland hammer Italy two years later.
Rugby World Cups are played in the northern hemisphere autumn. As that coincides with the NFL season, Brown said a US World Cup could also use major college venues including “the Rose Bowl [Pasadena, 91,000, host of the 1994 and 1999 football World Cup finals], the Cotton Bowl [Dallas, 92,100]” and Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which holds 71,600.
Brown also said Major League Soccer venues were being considered “in case we determine matches would better be served in a smaller stadium. Each city is committed to flexibility there.”
Rugby World Cups often cross national boundaries. Young and Brown said the intent was to host in the US but Canadian venues had not been ruled out – particularly for 2029, which could see women’s games in Vancouver.
Asked what comes next, Young said: “We just received the bid documents from World Rugby, and we’re still digesting the documents. We have our first call formal call with them on Thursday, with any questions we may have.
“But really, the key dates following this would be the end of the year, first drafts of some of the commitment letters and some of the key documentation that they require for their review and obviously discussion. And then the formal bid submissions are due on 14 January.
“Then the decision comes in May. All three at once.”