London - England's governing Rugby Football Union is to invest in the game in the United States in a bid to boost the "fastest growing team sport in America".
The RFU, one of the sport's wealthiest national boards, will become both a minority shareholder and strategic partner in USA Rugby's new commercial subsidiary, Rugby International Marketing (RIM) amid speculation that matches in England's elite Premiership club competition could be staged in the United States.
However, a statement issued Friday said the aim was to develop new revenue streams in the USA such as the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, which will take place in the San Francisco Bay area as well as sponsorship and broadcast deals.
An RFU statement said rugby was now the "fastest growing team sport in America" with participation numbers "in excess of one million", with chief executive Ian Ritchie adding it made sense to invest in the "world's largest sporting market".
The USA, long regarded as a 'minnow' rugby nation are certainly a rising force on the international stage.
Last season, the Eagles won their maiden World Rugby Sevens Series title when they triumphed in the London Sevens at Twickenham, while both their men's and women's teams have qualified for next year inaugural Olympic Sevens event at the 2016 Games in Rio.
And this year's full 15-a-side Rugby World Cup, which starts in London in September, will mark the USA's seventh appearance in rugby's showcase tournament since the first edition in 1987.
The RFU's partnership with RIM follows the creation of the Rugby World Cup 2015 IMPACT Legacy Unity project, which has seen the union investing time and resource in developing rugby in 17 countries.
For the past two years, the RFU have reported revenues in excess of 150 million ($232 million) and Ritchie said Friday: "We have had another record year financially and we anticipate this investment in rugby in the USA will have a beneficial effect on rugby in England, the US and across the world, while not diluting our investment and strategic ambitions for rugby in England."
He added: "The RFU's financial returns as a partner in RIM will be reinvested back into the game in England.
"Investing in the world's largest sporting market makes a great deal of sense and we look forward to working with USA Rugby."
USA Rugby chief executive Nigel Melville, a former England captain, said: "We are delighted to have made this mutually beneficial agreement with the RFU.
"Their expertise and guidance will help to ensure that we further commercially develop rugby in the USA. RIM will help us generate new revenue streams that will support the continued development of the game in the USA."
The RFU said it would have no involvement in, or influence over USA Rugby's governance or structure, with any financial returns it received from its involvement to be reinvested back into the game in England.