The groundbreaking 2031 Rugby World Cup in the USA may have to move to July and August to avoid a clash with the NFL after organisers vowed not to “do a Qatar”.
World Rugby’s council rubber-stamped the decision to award the next five men’s and women’s World Cups at a meeting in Dublin on Thursday with Australia awarded the 2027 tournament, 24 years after hosting the 2003 competition in which England were crowned champions.
The USA has been awarded the men’s competition in 2031 and the women’s tournament in 2033 with organisers optimistic of generating $1bn in revenue from ticket sales alone. By comparison, the 2019 World Cup in Japan made around £350m from ticketing income.
With the NFL season traditionally beginning in early September, however, World Cup organisers are wary of failing to capture the imagination of the American public with any clash.
Citing the Fifa men’s World Cup which takes place in November and December in Qatar, in the middle of the season for the major European leagues, World Rugby confirmed a move to the summer is likely. That in turn, however, could cause problems for the dates of the 2030-31 season for domestic leagues and could see players running out in sweltering temperatures depending on the host cities.
“If you think about the previous Rugby World Cup in Australia back in 2003, it was slightly later than what is now our World Cup window,” said World Rugby’s chief executive Alan Gilpin. “The US would probably ideally be slightly earlier. And again, what we now need to do with the certainty we’ve got from today, is spend the time thinking about what the benefits and challenges are in that. And a lot of that will involve some really sort of grown-up discussions with professional leagues around the world and the impacts that could have on their seasons. We’re not going to do a Qatar and just plonk it in the middle of a lot of other competitions. There are those considerations to have.”
The decision to take the World Cup to the USA is bold considering they may not even qualify for the 2023 competition but the commercial opportunities have proved irresistible with the World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont citing the “golden nugget”. Organisers predict they will sell more than three million tickets – 2.6m were made available for France 2023 – despite the comparatively low profile of the sport in the country. “We have 28 venues of over 60,000 and a couple of over 100,000,” said USA Rugby’s chief executive, Ross Young. “The tough part will be engagement. It’s not going to be easy but taking 48 games around the country is eminently achievable.”
Indeed, Gilpin revealed that not only would organisers seek to avoid a clash with the NFL but they could partner with franchises to increase engagement. He added: “What’s been interesting in a lot of the discussions around it is the supportive nature of, for example, all the NFL franchises. So, can we be smart around that? If we can harness a little bit of a partnership with NFL franchises around hosting, the ability that gives us to really make this thing come alive quickly will be fantastic.”
While Australia were awarded the 2029 women’s World Cup, England – the favourites for this year’s competition – were confirmed as the hosts in 2025. The stated aim is to sell out Twickenham for the final and it is understood the Rugby Football Union has secured £14.5m in government funding for its legacy programme. The RFU’s chief operating officer, Sue Day, confirmed they will look to Euro 2022 in England this summer, for which tickets sold out in less than an hour, as a blueprint. She said: “Football is a few years ahead of us so we’d be crazy not to try and learn from them. We have to learn lessons from each other, these are events that make women’s sport bigger and better, we need to do it together.”
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