When, in 1823, William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby College in England, deviated from the conventional rules of soccer. He actually "took the ball in his arms and ran with it", few could have suspected that this one foul would lead to the development of the modern game of rugby. It is a compelling sport of courage and ability. Since that historic jaunt, scholastic, national and now professional teams have battled throughout not only England, but in over 100 countries around the globe.
The first recorded game on American soil took place at Harvard University in 1874. While no one remembers who won, rugby was here to stay. In fact, rugby gave rise to the "new" American pastime, football. Football owes most of it's origins, rules and structure to the game of rugby ("touchdown" is a rugby term). Of course, football players take the fun out of the game by wearing pads.
While rugby was introduced in the United States way back in 1874, the game grew slowly until the last decade. As recently as 1990, the number of U.S. rugby enthusiasts had ballooned to 293,000+ (National Sporting Goods Association Survey). In the most current NCAA study, rugby was declared to be the number one club (non-varsity) sport on campus for men and number two for women.
On a typical Saturday, over 1,440 U.S. clubs (each with as many as three 15-man teams) face off around the country. In addition to single game match-ups, multi-team tournaments are extremely popular. The U.S. Rugby Union has a database of 300 tournaments all around the country--some attracting over 100 teams/2,500 players.
Between the two types of rugby events, the game is seen by a large number of people. At the recent Aspen Ruggerfest, an estimated 22,000 people attended the three-day event. The cumulative worldwide television audience for the Rugby World Cup was 2.6 billion people.The U.S. even has it's own rugby show on television. Since 1995 "Championship Rugby" has been broadcast on the International Channel each Sunday and twelve shows appear annually on the Prime Network.
Rugby's demographics are, to say the least, decidedly upscale. 93% of the participants are college educated with over 48% completing some post-graduate studies. Also, 67% have household incomes in excess of $50,000 annually and over 42% of the rugby community fall into the 18 to 34 age bracket.