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Forbes: How USA Rugby’s Emirates Airline Summer Series Is Raising The Sport Domestically

Last year, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association produced an annual participation report and found that rugby in particular had grown 52 percent in the U.S. over the previous four years and thus, made it the fastest growing team sport in the country during that time period.

It’s a finding that was cited by David Sternberg, Chief Executive Officer of Rugby International Marketing, as he expounded upon the Emirates Airline Summer Series, a domestic two-week series for the USA Rugby Men’s Eagles starting this weekend.

According to Sternberg, seeing the grassroots expanding throughout the country is “to some degree, a byproduct of the games we’ve brought to this country” together with sports marketing agency TLA WorldWide.

“We’re at about 1.4 million people playing (rugby) here in America,” added Sternberg, whose organization is the marketing and business arm of USA Rugby. “That’s phenomenal for us.”

The first of two rugby matches kicks off tonight at 5pm EST with USA Rugby facing Ireland (Irish Rugby Football Union) at Red Bull Arena, home of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls. The match will air on NBC Sports, who also finalized a deal in May to broadcast the Rugby World Cup through 2023.

For the fourth consecutive year, TLA Worldwide will play a role in bringing rugby to the United States after identifying the sport receiving more interest domestically. Moreover, a few years ago, there were hardly any international rugby events taking place on the level that exists today. TLA Worldwide brought its first international match to the U.S. in 2014, with USA Rugby squaring off then against the New Zealand All Blacks at Soldier Field. From there, the annual matches have become a mainstay sports property for the agency.

Blue-chip brands like AIG, Emirates, Guinness, Citi and DHL, among others, have also taken notice over the years and joined in sponsoring the domestic events.

“If we can play a part in raising the consciousness and awareness of the sport in conjunction with the good efforts of USA Rugby, who is making terrific strides, then we’re happy,” said Mike Principe, Chief Executive Officer of TLA Worldwide.“You’re starting to see more activity around rugby in the States.”

Principe added that the numbers of highly-educated rugby fans both domestically and internationally are greater than he originally anticipated, with the sport now having 40 million fans in the United States and 55 percent of those individuals being millennials.

As Sternberg highlighted, traditional urban markets like Los Angeles, New York, Boston and San Francisco, are some of the bigger U.S. pockets for rugby. At the same time, participation numbers “in the heartlands of America,” according to the sports executive, are growing as well. High-levels of interest in Texas, Colorado and Chicago round out some of the top rugby markets.

“I think it helps to grow the game overall if we can expose fans in the U.S. to the best national teams from around the world,” further explained Sternberg. “They can see the All Blacks or the Irish national team competing, like they did in Chicago last year and really see how amazing the sport is when it’s played at a high level. Americans, sports fans generally, respond to world-class quality, so having games like this just gives us that more visibility for the sport.”

USA Rugby will continue its summer series next Saturday versus Georgia on the grounds of Kennesaw State University at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

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