Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy
Talk of professional rugby seems to be the hot topic this past week. Is it that we are on the cusp of something never before accomplished? Is it the dawn of a new age? Or is it just that time of year again? You know it… the USA 7’s tournament is still a month away, the college rugby season has yet to get rolling, and there really isn’t a whole lot else to talk about. When the newswire runs dry, it is time to turn to the good old faithful talk of professional rugby. I even looked back into the archives and found a significant amount of professional rugby related articles written in the months of January & February. Perhaps it is the changing weather or the letdown after the holidays. Whatever it may be, this time of year is not new to talks of pro rugby.
As of the writing of this article, there could be as many as three or four separate groups working on creating some form of professional rugby competition in the United States. All but one of the groups are working on 15’s competitions which will be to the delight of fans worried that the arrival of Olympic Rugby would deter from the 15-man game here in the USA.
This past week, RugbyMag posted news to their pay site regarding a professional competition which is supposedly to take place in the Western part of the USA. Another rumor came out of The Rugby Wrapup hinting at the creation of a North American Rugby competition with teams from Canada and the USA. More details are yet to come from The Rugby Wrapup, but their news hinted at raising money by having fans invest in the startup. Can anyone say Green Bay Packers?
While that may be a very ambitious endeavor, no one can doubt that there is a massive amount of interest globally to have a professional competition in North America. Rugby hotbeds across the globe have a stake in the growth of rugby in America and could get behind such an effort. Although I am inclined to believe that fans are more likely to buy stake in a specific team as opposed to an entire league.
Having covered the topic of professional rugby a number of times in the past few years, I have to remain skeptical of any effort. It is just how we have been conditioned after repeatedly hearing the same stories and seeing the same patterns.
Everything should come with a giant disclaimer in flashing neon lights…
WARNING: The rumors held within are just that… rumors. Do not take anything you read as fact until you see teams on the field, in uniforms, with players being paid, and fans in the stands.
Rumors of professional rugby in the USA have been going on for at least a decade. I can still remember reports of a league coming close to fruition right around the 9/11 attacks. I am certain there are parties interested in a professional rugby competition in America and I know that USA Rugby has held numerous talks with such people over the years.
The fan and kid in me wants to believe. Don’t we all? It’s probably why I provided so much coverage of William Tatham’s professional 7’s efforts. I really want it to happen. I don’t care who does it or whether it’s 7’s or 15’s… the professional rugby seal needs to be broken.
While I remain iffy on these new rumors, it sure isn’t going to stop me from some analysis. Over the years, I have come to the realization that smaller, regional, professional leagues are probably the best route to take at this point in time. The money does not exist for a trans-continental league. This is probably a very good thing for whoever is working on this Western USA based league. If they can keep the travel costs down, keep it small, they might be onto something. Then they can see where things go from there.
For those of you out there, on the East Coast or Midwest, that might feel slighted by any notion of a Western based league… its ok. If things work on the West Coast, who’s to say that someone won’t start a professional league on the East Coast? The early years of professional football were littered with different leagues until the final NFL/AFL merger in 1970. The same goes for pretty much every professional sport. Rugby needs to find what works in our current landscape and right now that is smaller, more regional competitions.
I truly believe the corridor between Boston and Washington D.C. is a prime spot for an East Coast competition. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. are all well developed rugby communities that could be a good fit for teams. Honestly, there could be room for as many as four or five smaller semi-pro/professional leagues across America. We certainly have the space, although valid arguments can be made as to whether the player pool exists at this time to support more than one or two leagues.
The mere mention of the words “professional rugby” is enough to get fans across American fired up and talking. However, I suggest caution and patience in regards to any talks of professional rugby. There is evidence that there are people working to make it happen and are actively pursuing the goal, but there is nothing at this point that shows any concrete evidence that something will happen.
Keep your fingers crossed and you never know we might really get a surprise one of these times.