Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Yesterday I was home with one of my kids who wasn’t feeling well. As we both had our fill of watching Spongebob, we took to channel surfing. The pickings were pretty lean though. Unless you’re a fan of reality shows, which I am not. I then remembered that I had the Leicester-Gloucester Guinness Premiership Semifinal recorded on my DVR. Before I turned it on, I decided to flip through the channels one last time. At that point I came across the National Lacrosse League Championships on ESPN2. I thought it was odd for it to be run at 2pm, but then I remebered that they are only a bit higher in the pecking order than rugby and take what they can get from ESPN. What the game had to offer reminds me that a professional rugby league in the USA is an absolute neccesity.
In the match the Buffalo Bandits topped the Portland LumberJax, 14-13, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The first thing that struck me was the masses of orange clad Bandit supporters in the stands. The crowd had energy that matched the crowds of one of the big time professional sporting events, just in smaller numbers. Everyone one of them clad in Bandit merchandise. Anyone out there that doesn’t believe that rugby can replicate this in the USA is mad. I don’t care how many foreigners tell us otherwise. Americans love sports and as long it is an entertaining package with teams that they can give their loyalty (and merchandising money) to, they’ll keep coming back. The 18,000+ crazed fans in Buffalo watching a fringe sport nailed that home just one more time for me.
The NLL halftime report focused on the youth movement in lacrosse and how they are the next generation of professional lacrosse players. They made sure to repeat the statement, because they knew there were tons of youth, HS, and collegiate lacrosse players out there watching the game. I’m sure, as they watched it, they were all daydreaming of one day suiting up as a professional lacrosse player. Just like I had my head in the clouds every time I watched a baseball game when I was a kid. Children playing rugby today don’t have that to aspire towards and thats how we lose them to other sports, don’t get to them in the first place, or just lose them period. Everyone is doing the grassroots work around America and getting more kids playing rugby, but having a professional league will help bring and keep people in the sport whether it is as a player, coach, or just a fan.
At one point in time I thought the Eagles were our ticket to professional rugby and that the focus should be on making them successful to help pull in the sponsors needed, but I’m starting to see it differently. I’m starting to think that the focus should shift towards developing a professional rugby league in the USA and on our youth. The Eagles will become successful as a byproduct of the work done on those fronts. I’m all for International rugby, I really love it and hope that the Eagles to someday hoist the Webb Ellis Cup. But, do you think the casual American sports fan gives two squirts about it? They don’t, but if you gave them the Chicago Titans, San Diego Sharks, or a heated New York/Boston rugby rivaly they’d take notice. Get their feet in the door with a homegrown product and then introduce them to the joys of International rugby.
Lacrosse has the right formula and is way ahead of rugby in the United States. I’ve been in denial of those facts for some time, but almost 20,000 screaming fans in Buffalo have opened my eyes. Speaking of screaming fans, I bought my tickets for the Churchill Cup this morning and some of the areas are sold out. The Eagle events this summer could be a big turning point. If we can fill the stands at these events, we’ll prove to alot of people that rugby is commerically viable on US soil.
Oh yeah, I did toggle back and forth between the NLL Championship and the Leicester/Gloucester match. I am a rugby fan after all. It was a great match and Leicester has to feel pretty blessed. Just a couple weeks ago they were in 7th place in the Premiership standings and now they’re headed to the final at Twickenham. They’ll be taking on a London Wasps squad that was hit hard by injuries in their semifinal match against Bath.