Why the US NEEDS a Professional Rugby Series
A couple of articles back I wrote about how the NFL had expressed interest in establishing a professional rugby series in the USA. The article suggested that this would be a good idea, and I talked about potential benefits (give it a read if you haven’t already). It was an interesting, if philosophical discussion, and one that would likely have gone ignored but for one thing…
It really, really needs to happen.
It’s been stated that the NFL probably won’t move forward with the planned series, and that the USA Rugby governing body doesn’t have the financial resources to back something like this. However, watching the USA vs Canada game on the weekend I was struck by the fact that the captain of the US team plays for the Saracens in the UK. I also heard the name Osprey’s (Wales) and I’m pretty sure a few other UK teams were mentioned as well.
So these guys are getting game time, but they’re developing the Aviva Premier League – they’re making money for the UK. This in itself is not a bad thing, it means the players are getting game time. But they’re not getting the chance to work with guys who will ultimately be colleagues, brothers on the field at a national level after being opponents at a domestic level.
I firmly believe one of the things that makes the likes of the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies so strong is they have such a strong, competitive series that feeds into the international test series. The Super Rugby Series allows for development of professional skill, as well as gaining a better knowledge of potential team mates strengths, and weaknesses.
If the USA Eagles national side had a comparable domestic series to feeding into them it would only benefit the team, and the game as a whole. This is a wonderful thought in the abstract, but again we come back to the “US Rugby doesn’t have the financial resources” conundrum.
Fine, let’s look then at corporate backing. There are many reasons why buying into a domestic super rugby series in the USA makes good commercial sense. The game on the weekend had around 5000 supporters from both sides. This is with virtually no real national coverage, and I’d suggest most American’s don’t even know they HAVE a national rugby side.
So what if there was some marketing investment put into a commercial series? The NFL, NHL, MLB even MLS all have a massive marketing spend to create interest in their respective codes. They get names like Brady, Rogers, RGIII and Crosby into the collective conciousness. Why can’t names like Pittman, Wyles and LaValla join them.
Let’s look at return on investment as well. As interest in the sport grows there is potentially a large area of untapped advertising markets, which means anyone fortunate enough to buy into this series has the potential to make a lot of money. While we’re on the subject, a lot of US Cities can benefit from rugby too. The games have to happen somewhere after all, if the season was scheduled for a late February start I happen to know of a large number of stadiums in places like Foxboro which won’t be doing much at that time of year.
To get the game out there will require network support of course. This is one of the most crucial elements for success. NBC is already involved in MLS, it could be beneficial for them to potentially cash in on an other domestic series. If not NBC, I was surfing my (admittedly) fairly large trove of sports streams over the weekend, and tuned in to ESPN playing the Little League World Series. Little League? Yup!
Rugby is one of the biggest sports globally, it makes sense to have one of the world’s sporting superpowers on the boards as well. One of the networks would do well to promote and support this.
Let’s also look at the fact that there’s another large group of people who would benefit from this – the kids already starting in rugby, and the college students playing rugby now. If Rugby was an actual, real, viable career path for these kids it could have a massive impact on their future.
It’s not that easy I know, but I’d contend it’s also not that hard.
Step one, get a financial backer. Talk to Virgin, talk to Bank of America, talk to Microsoft, Google, Zuckerberg. All it takes is one big ticket investor, then you have credibility to talk to the Hewlett Packard’s, the Dell’s, and so forth.
Step two, secure network support. Get to NBC, ABC, CBS, talk to ESPN, talk to Fox.
Step Three, get local investment from potentially interested cities. New York, Boston, San Francisco all have existing senior grade tier one teams, get them some financial backing to go pro.
Step four, focus on targeting the best kids from college level sports, and draft in some big ticket signings from overseas. Get a few high calibre internationals to boost recognition.
Step five, kick off a marketing campaign early enough that people have time to get interested, find out more about the sport, pick a team to support and gear up for the first season.
Step six, make it through the first season, rinse and repeat.
People are going to say it’s not that easy, I say it IS that easy! I believe the benefits to US sport, the US economy and rugby globally all but demand a series like this. Hell, give me a few months and the resources I need, I’ll do it myself if that’s what it takes! US Rugby shouldn’t just want a domestic series, they should need it, they should demand it, and they sure as hell should get it!
New to Rugby? Why not read my guide, “Rugby 101 – The (sort of) Beginner’s Guide to Rugby”!
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