By Brian MacIver
Justin Biggs remembers the All Blacks November visit to Chicago.
“Euphoria. Everyone knew this was the first time in a very long time that this had happened. It was just a buzzing. Everyone singing, dancing, having a few drinks. Just having a genuinely good time.”
The Australian consulate employee will get to chance to cheer on his home country’s rugby team as the Australian Wallabies, one of the world’s best rugby clubs, will come to Soldier Field on Sept. 5 to play the USA Eagles.
The news came out on May 12 during a press conference at the Soldier Field. Representatives from both teams and another from Choose Chicago, the city’s privately run tourism organization, came together for the announcement.
“We’re one of the fastest growing team sport in the country,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. He said he hopes to see the same anecdotal local impact on the sport that was seen after last year’s game versus New Zealand.
“We did get a lot of positives from this particular area in the growth of the Illinois youth rugby, for example, and the programs locally. More teams are looking at rugby a little more seriously than in the past,” he said.
This match is not just a good thing for the sport in the country. According to Michael Wood, the Australian consul general in Chicago (and the boss of Biggs), this event is also great for the Australian ex-pat community in America.
“Oh, this is a tremendous event for Australians in Chicago and the States. The last time the Wallabies played on U.S. soil was almost 40 years ago in Anaheim. So fans have been waiting a long time,” he said.
Biggs is going to be one of those Australians attending the game.
“It’s phenomenal. You know, having the All Blacks was fantastic ‘cause they’re close to our shores. But to have the Wallabies is just outstanding. It’s going to be fantastic,” Biggs said.
Kara Bachman, the executive director at the Chicago Sports Commission, a branch of Choose Chicago – the private tourism arm of Chicago tourism — said last November’s All Blacks game was great for Chicago’s hotel industry, which broke seasonal records in bookings and revenue.
“We beat leisure travel that week by over 30 percent,” she said. “That was a record.”
She expects the same kind of tourism boost when Aussies flood Chicago streets.
“The All Blacks was a great success all around. You could see it and you could feel it in the city. I think we’ll see similar [results] with Australia. Especially being en route to the World Cup.”
This game is going to be one of the final preparation games for both teams leading into the Rugby World Cup. The tournament begins Sept. 17 and will last through the end of October in England.