So much action on the pitch, but what’s been going on off it?
50,000 people packed into FedEx Field last week, the home of the NFL’s Washington Football Team. The American flag flew high and the Star Spangled Banner was belted out by all in attendance. But, unusually, not a single forward pass was thrown or helmet worn. No, this was not an NFL game, but an international rugby match and, hopefully, a sign of things to come. The USA’s 15s team - the Three Eagles - welcomed the storied, iconic All Blacks to their back yard and were duly dealt a brutal blow, as the former World Champions romped home 104-14. An unsurprising score, particularly considering that USA were unable to field any players who play their domestic trade outside of the States, but despite the drubbing, the USA will still class it as a win. That’s because the game was played just days after the country announced intentions to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029, and the men’s in either 2027 or 2031.It won’t be an easy journey. COVID hit rugby unions are looking for a financial boost, with Australia in for 2027 and England for 2031. But the huge crowd in Washington will wet the appetite of World Rugby, whose eagerness to grow the sport in America has been well documented. The Governing Body no doubt imagines games at huge NFL grounds across the country, drawing thousands of fans and offering incredible hospitality and culture. But expanding into new territories is not without risk, and while it opens up new opportunities for fans, players and sponsors alike, it can bring unpredictability. World Rugby will be buoyed by what it saw in 2019 when taking the men’s tournament to Japan - at the time a new market - and the success out east lays the groundwork for a compelling American bid. Certainly, a bid cycle to watch.
Sticking with the flagship tournaments of major sports, the rumour mill has continued to rumble around FIFA’s plans for the Men’s World Cup to take place every two years - rather than four as it is now. First posited in strategically positioned media interviews by both President Gianni Infantino and the new ‘positive’ face of FIFA, Arsene Wenger, the plans have been met with fairly universal pushback from players and fans alike. FIFA, however, is a powerful and determined organisation and looked likely to forge ahead regardless. That was, however, until the intervention of Kasper Rørsted - the boss of FIFA’s biggest global sponsor, adidas.
“I don’t think much of a football World Cup held every two years. There’s a European Championship here, there’s a Copa América in Latin America. One should also leave space for other things.
“I am a passionate football fan… but if you push just one product heavily it is not good for any product.”
Rørsted’s voice carries immense weight within the world of sport, and adidas’ association with FIFA goes back to the 1970’s. It’s a reminder, once more, of how beholden sport is to its commercial partners, and how important they are in the decision making process - there is arguably no greater reputational risk in professional sport than that which upsets sponsors. The saga will continue to rumble, but the powerplay politics between Infantino and his stakeholders will be fascinating to watch.
We end this week’s Notebook with a reminder that the Sport Industry Awards are back for 2022, and Miller is once again an Official Partner of the industry’s biggest night of the year. The Event of the Year in association with Miller returns to celebrate the very best sporting events, tournaments, or series out there. With live sport firmly back in the calendar and fans flooding back to stadiums across the country, we cannot wait to see the submissions.
You can find out more and enter here.