The breaking news in the rugby world today is that Saracens and London Irish are taking their game to New York on the 12th March 2016. While this will offer both the club and Premiership Rugby countless marketing and commercial opportunities, some fans are disappointed that they will be seeing one less home game and that it could undermine London Irish’s place in the Premiership as it may shift the club’s focus.
The primary concern of many observers is that this initiative will distance season ticket holders who can’t make the trip to New York. The fact that they won’t be able to see the Exiles play the defending champions has made them understandably irritated. However, this problem could easily be solved by creating a family event at Hazlewood with a screening of the game. This way these fans will still be able to experience a different, enjoyable atmosphere whilst still watching their team.
Another issue raised is that some fans seem to believe that they have been robbed of a home game. However, this game was never included in the season ticket and it was clearly advertised for 10 Aviva Premiership games. Whilst this made the season ticket less cost effective in terms of the number of games, there were several other new benefits such as the three free U13 season tickets available with each adult season ticket bought.
The final worry is that this game could endanger London Irish’s survival in the Aviva Premiership as it may distract them from winning key games. This is an insult to the professionalism of the players and coaches and so is highly unlikely to happen.
Since the new owners took over the club in December 2013, there has been an emphasis on financial stability and sustainability. This is a prime example of the new board’s progressive and long term thinking. The staging of a game in New York opens up more commercial opportunities for the club and attracts more sponsors; both American and British. This in turn will mean that London Irish will have more money to sign star players, improving the quality of the team and attracting more fans.
As this is the first Premiership game to be staged in the USA, it is the first chance that most Americans will have to experience top level club rugby. This increase the probability that they will support London Irish as the first team they saw play. There are many Irish people living in the area around New York or people with Irish heritage. This, combined with the fact that the match is 5 days before St Patrick’s Day, should make it fairly easy to sell tickets to new rugby fans. It will increase merchandise sales and some of the new fans may even want to watch the Exiles at the Madjeski Stadium generating more revenue back in Reading.
Not only is this game good for London Irish, or even in England, it is good for world rugby. There is a huge untapped market for rugby in the USA and growing it could be the next step in spreading rugby globally. Potentially, long term there could be a lucrative TV deal with an American broadcaster to show the Aviva Premiership much like Sky Sports covering the NFL, bringing more money to the Premiership clubs so that they can attract more players. Furthermore, if rugby fever gripped even a small part of the USA, a vast number of promising young players would be produced, such is their population size. This would transform the USA ‘s team into perhaps a Tier 1 team who could compete with the world’s best.
Overall, the positives for all parties concerned vastly outweigh the negatives. London Irish, and to a lesser extent Saracens, both have the chance to promote a pioneering, innovative image of their club while attracting new fans. This game will help USA rugby to grow rapidly and more talented players will be produced in the mound of Samu Manoa and Chris Wyles. Premiership Rugby and the RFU will both benefit from the increased sponsorship opportunities along with the enhanced image of English rugby. As this groundbreaking deal satisfies all sides it is clearly an astute piece of business by all concerned and is another step to rugby becoming a truly global sport.