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San Diego clash a key step in vision to grow rugby in the US

San Diego clash a key step in vision to grow rugby in the US

All BlacksJune 26, 2024

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson has told Forbes.com that playing Fiji in San Diego on July 19 will show the serious intent of NZR in growing its fanbase in the United States.

World Rugby's decision to hold the 2031 Men's Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women's Rugby World Cup was a 'North Star'.

NZR was keen to use the time before those events to ensure the All Blacks brand was visible on United States shores.

That was because NZR believes that in the long term, the US can be a great market for rugby, and playing games like that against Fiji was a chance to increase rugby awareness.

According to the 2022 US Census, San Diego has a Pacific Islander population of about 13.6 per cent and is close to large Pacific Island communities in the Bay Area and Hawaii.

Compared to recent occasions, such as Ireland beating the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 and the New Zealanders beating the USA Eagles at Fed Ex Field in 2021, which were regarded as one-off games, this year's game was the start of their desire to build a long-lasting fanbase and a longer-term US-based fixture list.

Robinson said he expects a sellout crowd of 35,000 for the San Diego game and hopes fans will enjoy the week of off-field events preceding the game.

Forbes.com reported that, apart from the game itself, NZR was bidding to develop a long-standing connection with American fans by working off the field to create connections with American universities, industry leaders, content creators like Dude Perfect, and casual fans.

They have a working relationship with Stanford University and offer an executive education programme allowing participants to observe the All Blacks' winning formula. They were also growing their content creation on NZR+ to capture new audiences and grow fan engagement.

New Zealand Rugby has always had links with the United States. The 1905-06 Originals ended their northern hemisphere tour with games in San Francisco, while the All Blacks toured California in 1913. Games were also played en route to tours of Britain and Ireland in 1967 and Wales in 1980.

Forbes.com said that in October next year, the All Blacks expected to play a game on the East Coast, which has strong collegiate club rugby links and is where the defending champions of Major League Rugby, the New England Free Jacks, are based.

Playing Fiji in San Diego would be an exciting opportunity because of the quality of the athletes on both sides, and Robinson said it would be one of the more unique fixtures brought to the US.

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