BOULDER, CO – USA Rugby President & CEO Nigel Melville traveled today to Philadelphia to announce that international rugby is coming to Philadelphia. The USA Eagles will play the New Zealand Maori All Blacks in the inaugural match on November 9, 2013 at PPL Park. American International Group, Inc. (NYSE: AIG), Official Sponsor of both USA Rugby and New Zealand Rugby, will be title sponsor of this historic competition, uniting these prestigious global rugby brands on North American soil.
The announcement came at a press conference held at the Global Rugby Forum, a forum that brings together domestic and international business and sports media executives meeting to discuss the growth of rugby and international sports in North American markets. As the fastest growing sport in the world, rugby is on the radar screen of international businesses that are looking to reach new markets amidst the exponential growth of rugby throughout the United States. Currently, there are over 1.13 million rugby participants living in the United States and currently 115,000 active members of USA Rugby with over 700 senior club teams, 850 college teams, 900 high school teams and 500 plus youth teams across America.
Nigel Melville, said: "The Maori All Blacks have a proud rugby tradition that makes them one of the most iconic rugby brands in the world of rugby. It is our goal to increase the quality of opponents for the Eagles and to expose our domestic fans to world-class international rugby events. We are extremely thankful for the partnership and commitment AIG has made to grow and develop rugby in America – this is truly a unique opportunity for us all.”
The Maori All Blacks promise to bring the highest level of competition. New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said, “These games represent an exciting opportunity to take a special New Zealand team to North America.”
"The Maori All Blacks have a unique history in rugby combined with a rich cultural identity. We had a wonderful taste of the style of rugby played by both Canada and USA when they played here in Rugby World Cup 2011. New Zealanders got behind both teams during that tournament, which really added to the experience of players.” The Maori All Blacks will also face Canada's National Senior Men's rugby team one week before the USA on November 3, 2013 at Toronto's BMO Field.
Robert Schimek, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIG Property Casualty’s Americas region said of the announcement, “the meeting of these two teams for the first time in the Northeast represents a tremendous milestone for the sport of rugby, and is an embodiment of AIG’s ongoing global commitment to the sport. We are proud to stand behind both teams, and are thrilled to partner together to support the advancement of the sport of rugby around the world.”
Philadelphia is centrally located in the Mid-Atlantic region with nearly 6,000 active rugby players (and growing) from Washington, DC to New York. PPL Park in Chester, PA was built for the Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer franchise with rugby in mind and has played host to national collegiate invitational rugby tournaments as well as youth and high school rugby.
According to Melville, “Philadelphia is unquestionably a passionate sports town and our decision to bring this first, of hopefully many, international matches to Philadelphia made good sense. PPL Park is a great place to play and watch rugby – fans will see fast paced action, hard hits and our national team at its best against one of the world’s best.”
The press conference and luncheon were co-hosted by Rugby Pennsylvania, USA Rugby’s partner for youth and high school rugby across the state. Board Chairman John McNichol commented, “AIG is doing great work in promoting not just the highest level of rugby competition but also in growing the game from the ground up. AIG’s sponsorship of USA Rugby’s Rookie “Rugby in a Box” program allows us to reach thousands of young athletes – many of them from disadvantaged communities. On the importance of the USA Eagles coming to town, McNichol added “The USA Rugby Eagles playing in the back yard of our Philadelphia Eagles presents an amazing opportunity for us to introduce the game to thousands of new fans and reward our passionate rugby community for their years of commitment to the sport they love.”