Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Despite recent denials from organizers the Arena Football League, established in 1987, is on the verge of folding. After reports that the AFL would cancel the 2009 season, the schedule was finally released. However, the release of the schedule has done little to decrease speculation about the potential of the league folding. Once an up and coming league, the AFL has passed its apex and has been on the down swing. A key blow to the AFL as it grappled with economic hardships was the dissolution of a potential $100 million ownership agreement with Platinum Equity.
All of the AFL teams are still operating as if there will be a season, but insiders, players, and coaches are all very worried. If the AFL cancels the 2009 season, their hopes lie in restructuring and coming back in 2010. However, professional sports ventures rarely come back from such a setback. Add that to the fact that the league has been without a Commissioner since the summer and things don’t look well.
In the event the AFL does fold, will this open up new opportunities for USA Rugby? ESPN has a minor, non-management financial interest in the AFL. The network acquired national TV rights to the league in 2006 and signed a five-year deal to have multimedia rights that included everything from Internet to radio to publishing to international distribution.
If the AFL hits the skids, there will be a substantial opportunity for USA Rugby’s relationship with ESPN to grow. The immediate benefactor could be college rugby, who can provide ESPN with immediately marketable brands and plenty of marquee matchups to pick from. USA Rugby has already secured ESPN airtime for three collegiate games this coming spring, so addition of more could be a likely byproduct if USA Rugby is proactive in pursuing ESPN if the AFL folds. Something will fill the void for ESPN, this could be the window of opportunity that rugby in the United States needs.
The potential folding of the AFL’s also leaves team owners out in the cold. Is this an opportunity for USA Rugby to woo investors into American rugby? Possibly into the long talked about city based professional rugby league? After all, these investors obviously enjoy the idea of owning professional sports franchises, so I don’t see them investing in HS rugby. If the apparently successful AFL couldn’t compete in the shadow of the NFL, maybe it’s time they put their money into a different sport. The fact that rugby doesn’t have a saturated market or dozens of competitors would not be overlooked. Throw in the growing youth rugby sector and USA Rugby might have enough to at least get their foot in the door with some of these investors.
Only time will tell how everything shakes out with the AFL, but one cannot help wonder if this is a golden opportunity coming in USA Rugby’s direction.