NFL and rugby, divided by a common ball, share a dream of conquering the world

The NFL is tackling the rest of the world.
The NFL is tackling the rest of the world.
Image: Reuters/Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The NFL and rugby have more in common than large men chasing an oval ball and slamming into each other. They are both expanding globally—and joining forces in the process.

America’s beloved version of football has signed a three-year deal with Twickenham, the equally-beloved stadium that serves as the home of English rugby, which will see the NFL play a minimum of three regular-season games in London. The deal is the first of its kind for rugby union.

The first match will be announced later this year, according to The Guardian, but the deal will not start until October 2016. And this comes after the NFL extended its current agreement to play two games a year at Wembley, the home of English soccer, until 2020. That’s a lot of American football in London.

In fact, both sports are keen to grow.

Coming off the most financially successful rugby World Cup ever last month in England, rugby is also taking its sport around the world. Brett Gosper, World Rugby’s chief executive, wants to bridge the gap between the best rugby sides in the world—such as perennial winner New Zealand—and the so-called Tier 2 sides through greater investment. The next World Cup will be held in Japan—and rugby rookie Japan pulled off the biggest upset in rugby history during the most recent tournament to the delight of neutrals around the world.

A version of rugby—known as sevens— will be played for the first time at the 2016 Olympic Games and Gosper says he will use the Olympics as an opportunity to develop the game in Russia and China—and into the US via its universities, where the game is often played.

Already, New Zealand played the US Eagles to record crowds in the US and the English Premiership will stage its first league game overseas early next year when the London Irish will play Saracens in New York.

As NFL and rugby move away from their respective bases of the US and the former colonies of England, they inevitably run into each other. Some theorize that the Twickenham deal will the home of any London-based NFL franchise—something that has been long discussed by NFL bigwigs in the US as the game grows in popularity in the UK.

Perhaps that could involve some NFL players joining the US rugby squad for a time—the Eagles failed to win a single match at the World Cup last month.