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Rugby is now the third fastest growing sport in the United States according to a major study on sports participation. The study, conducted in 2010 by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), reveals that new sports are beginning to carve out a greater share of the market, even though overall participation in mainstream team sports has declined. The significant changes include:

• Fast‐pitch softball – up 13.8%

• Ice hockey – up 12.2%

• Rugby – up 8.7% and

• Beach Volleyball – up 7.3%

Lacrosse (up 6.2%), Indoor Soccer (up 3.7%) and Gymnastics (up 3.6%) also all experienced growth during the period.

For Rugby, which is played in more than 117 countries by 3.5 million registered players, the trend marks another significant milestone for a sport that has been boosted by Olympic Games inclusion with Sevens to debut at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

International Rugby Board Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “These are extremely exciting times for Rugby in the United States. We are witnessing strong growth in popularity and participation in one of our key markets for the sport. Also thanks to a strategic vision of development and the hard work and dedication of the national governing body, USA Rugby, more men, women and children are able to engage in Rugby throughout the country.”

Nigel Melville, USA Rugby CEO & President Rugby Operations, added: “Our goal has been to create a strong foundation for the Game through the development of youth, high school and college programmes following a traditional sports model. Americans are attracted to Rugby’s values of respect, integrity and discipline and we are seeing new players coming to the Game. We are also increasing awareness through media and broadcast channels.”

The research on the growth of Rugby in the country provides a boost ahead of the USA Sevens in Las Vegas this weekend (February 12-13), the fourth round of the record-breaking HSBC Sevens World Series.

The 2011 USA Sevens will be broadcast live on NBC, the first ever Rugby event to feature on network television in the United States, while the Game’s showpiece event, Rugby World Cup 2011 featuring the top 20 countries including the USA, will also get live airtime via NBC when it is held in September and October in New Zealand.

Jon Miller, Executive Vice President of NBC Sports, said: “We’re very excited about the opportunity to showcase, live to the American public, the thrilling action of Sevens Rugby. The sport is incredibly popular internationally and we look forward to continuing our partnership with USA Sevens and the IRB to grow Rugby here in the US.”

USA Sevens Tournament Director Dan Lyle added: “Four years ago, USA Sevens set out to attain mainstream exposure and this exciting new partnership with NBC reflects the hard work achieved to realise this opportunity. We look forward to presenting the 2011 tournament to the largest US audience ever to have watched our great sport.”

The USA Sevens schedule sees HSBC Sevens World Series joint leaders England head Pool A as top seeds and kick off an exciting two days of matches, which sees the hosts USA in Pool C. All four Cup quarter finals will be played at the end of day one allowing the Cup final to be broadcast live on NBC throughout the USA on February 13.

In addition to the four Cup quarter finals being played at the end of a lengthened day one, the four trophy finals are also rearranged at the end of day two. This will allow the Cup final – and showpiece match – to coincide with prime time across the east coast of America, before the three other finals, at 14:15 local time. The altered format of the Las Vegas schedule will allow the sport to maximise the national exposure afforded by the event’s first ever live broadcast on network television.

IRB Chief Executive Mike Miller said: “The fact that Rugby Sevens is being broadcast on NBC is extremely exciting for the development of the Game. Interest in Rugby has grown tremendously in the USA since Rugby Sevens was voted into the Olympic Games and this can only help consolidate that growth.”

“This unprecedented platform means that we have the opportunity to attract millions of people who wouldn’t normally see the sport through an internationally-renowned sports broadcaster. We’re sure that when they see it on NBC, Americans will be hooked on the highly competitive, fast-paced nature of Rugby Sevens.”