Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Pro Rugby Talk: The Real Deal or More Hot Air?

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.

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7 comments on “Pro Rugby Talk: The Real Deal or More Hot Air?

  1. Matt
    January 9, 2012

    Ted, couldn’t agree more. I’ve heard pro rugby mentioned way too many times to just jump on what Rugby Mag said last week and take it as fact.

    But no matter if its fact or ficton, and even though Im a Midwesterner down to my boots, I’d still LOVE to see a pro rugby competition based primarily on the West or East Coast.

    You mentioned the NFL and AFL merging back in the day, but even well before that the first professional football league started out in my home state of Ohio. And it was filled with teams mainly from Ohio like the Akron Professionals, Canton Bulldoqs, Cleveland Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, the Dayton Triangles…. and then a few out of state teams like the Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Heralds and the Buffalo All-Americans… And look what it eventually formed in to… The NFL is one of the greatest sporting leagues in the world.

    So I’m all for this thing starting small in California/Utah. Or even on the East Coast with New York/Boston/Philly/DC area just to save money on travel. It will eventually get HUGE. I know it will.

  2. workingclassrugger
    January 10, 2012

    It’s sought of a see it to believe scenario, I agree 100% with that. Such talk isn’t new by any means. Though I will say this, in June of this year Nigel Melville hinted at these talks being underway with interested parties had been occurring for some time. Tim Horan (Wallaby Legend) brought up similar information during a commentary (I actually think it was the USA/Italy game).

    A few more details have slowly emerged. The first is that both the USARFU and CRFU have endorsed the proposed league, according to the Utah Warriors owner Sean Whalen the group has been in talks with groups from both sides of the country and another has mentioned that it just so happens that the groups that best fit the required criteria .i.e. not only just potential for on field success but commercial. It just so happens that they have emerged in the Western half of the country.

    There’s also suggestion that some MLS franchises are involved and one has hinted that there are some Rugby and non-Rugby entities with deep pockets behind this. The only solid development is that a group has registered an LLC under the name North American Professional Rugby in Dover, Delaware.

    By the way, good to see the site back up and running.

  3. RugbyAmerica
    January 10, 2012

    WCR,

    As always, great to hear from you. I have my fingers crossed that this time is “The One”. Very interesting that some MLS teams might be involved, but not all too surprising. Last June I was quizzing Melville on various subjects and floated the idea of forming some sort of partnership with MLS clubs to act as parent organizations to pro rugby teams here in the USA. He said that there had been some discussions and it was certainly not something to rule out.

    http://rugbyamerica.net/2011/06/02/linking-top-clubs-to-mls-teams-a-viable-option

  4. ROBW4
    January 23, 2012

    Professinal rugby in the USA for 15 aside heres an idea. The first step would be to creat a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUGBY like an INTERSTATE RUGBY championship .Currently at the moment as i understand USA RUGBY the governing body of the sport in the us there player pathway structer begins with the ROOKIE RUGBY programmes for both boys and girls flag or touch which is a noncontact part of rugby at this level then on to YOUTH and HIGHSCHOOL full contact rugby for both boys and girls and onto COLLEGE UNIVERSITY then onto the HIGHSCHOOL ALLAMERICANS to UNDER 20 ALLAMERICANS and COLLEGE ALLAMERICANS ETC and with the SEVENS being set for the OLYMPIC GAMES 2016 in RIO from there.Theres the SENIOR CLUB RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIPS and SUPERLEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP and then the US NATIONAL TEAMS. Where the INTERSTATE RUGBY model NCR which stands for NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUGBY would fit in just above the SENIOR CLUB and SUPERLEAGUE RUGBY CLUB LEVEL at this point at the INTERSTATE LEVEL could be or should be reginized as the usa top premiere rugby level and then on to THE USA EAGLES NATIONAL TEAMS AT TEST LEVEL which is the ultimate goal for all usa players example with this INTERSTATE model at this level would be on the same level as NEW ZEALAND ITM CUP PROVINCAL SIDES and SOUTH AFRICA PROVINCAL CURRIE CUP SIDES. The idea of a US PRO or NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUGBY COMP set up and fort between the state sides like the state of CALIFORNIA vs the state of ARIZONA the beautie of it is when it comes to selecting players or drafting for the teams all of the best players from the superleague and senior clubs and colleges and highschools within the state boundries or boarder lines would represent there state sides at this level also this is where the professinal franchies or pro idea should be set in or focus Professinal rugby in the usa for 15 aside like i mention before at the state level this is where professinal rugby should be focus and at the USA EAGLES national teams aswell which i didnt mention early.With the set up of the state sides in a competition could giveway to state level adminastration and commettes could also play there part by looking after the grassroots rugby and organize state championships rugby at variours levels from within there state boarders from rookie rugby and younger and all the way to senior club rugby here is a layout for a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUGBY OR NCR for short in THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA there are 51 states in AMERICA that been state teams all divided up into four conferrences west having 13 teams east 13 teams south 13 teams central 12 teams in conferrence chapionship titles or leagues

    THE WESTERN CONFERRENCE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
    1 ALASKA
    2 HAWAII
    3 WASHINGTON
    4 OREGON
    5 CALIFORNIA
    6 ARIZONA
    7 NEVADA
    8 IDAHO
    9 UTAH
    10 COLORADO
    11 MONTANA
    12 WYOMING
    13 NEW MEXICO
    in this group of state sides covers the west coast and the pacfic coastland
    and to the north and north west

    THE SOUTHERN CONFERRENCE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
    1 TEXAS
    2 OKLAHOMA
    3 ARKANSAS
    4 MISSISSIPPI
    5 LOUISIANA
    6 KENTUCKY
    7 WEST VIRGINIA
    8 NORTH CAROLINA
    9 SOUTH CAROLINA
    10 TENNESSEE
    11 GEORGIA
    12 ALABAMA
    13 FLORIDA
    in this group of state sides covers
    the deep south and gulf of mexico

    THE EASTERN CONFERRENCE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
    1 DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
    2 VIRGINIA
    3 PENNSYLVANIA
    4 DELAWARE
    5 MARYLAND
    6 NEW JERSEY
    7 NEW YORK
    8 MAINE
    9 MASSACHUSETTS
    10 VERMONT
    11 NEW HAMPSHIRE
    12 RHODE ISLAND
    13 CONNECTICUT
    In this conferrence group cover the east coast line and the alantic

    THE CENTRAL CONFERRENCE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
    1 NORTH DAKOTA
    2 SOUTH DAKOTA
    3 NEBRASKA
    4 KANSAS
    5 MISSOURI
    6 IOWA
    7 MINNESOTA
    8 WISCONSIN
    9 ILLINOIS
    10 MICHIGAN
    11 INDIANA
    12 OHIO
    This group of state sides cover the center of the US and north to boarder lines
    of CANADA

    each team per conferrence play each other once the goal for per team is to get to the first and second place of there conferrence
    championship or by winning it the first place team and the 2nd place team in there conferrence then play each other again for the final of there conferrence championship.Each team per conferrence who wins there conferrence championship title
    and the 2nd place or runner up in there group each conferrence providing 2 teams each . Both advance to a knock out round quater finals play offs which consists of 8 teams in total. Winner of the west conferrence vs the 2nd place or runner up of the south conferrence the winner of that game advances to the semi finals .Winner of the south vs the runner up of the west. The winner of that game advances to the semis. The winner of the east vs the runner up of cenral the winner of that game advances to the semis.The winner of central vs runner up of the east conferrence the winner of that game advances to the semis the semis where its down to 4 teams and then on to the grand final showdown of the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUGBY fort between 2 teams the winners are crown champions of the US of A and the avaerge state side team will play up to 11 to 12 games a season and the champions team would have played up to 15 to 16 games max a season in this competition

  5. anobleman
    February 16, 2012

    If ONLY, Ted!

    Great news facility. Well done!

    Terence

  6. rj
    March 14, 2012

    “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?”

    The Green Bay Packers setup is already in place in rugby now by the way. There’s zero difference from Packers fans owning shares in a corporation to field a club and people being members of a non-profit corporation as most American senior rugby clubs currently in place in the country, other than the professionalism (because of the lack of funds). The reason for that difference is the multiples of the amount of money that could possibly be raised. How many rugby fans are there in the U.S. that are really willing to put money into a club for no return? Thinking of my club you may get a guy or two that puts in $25 but it’s not like that’s even a drop in the bucket.

    Sorry, it’s a nice idealistic pipe dream, but it’s that, a pipe dream. People say they’ll support something but unless you’re talking serious investors with serious money, those usually turn out to be vaporware.

    “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.”

    Could be. Problem with some of those cities is there is a complete lack of suitable cheap infrastructure to support rugby. Of course any “pro” team could rent a suitable field but that just adds to the amount of costs to the operation.

  7. rj
    March 14, 2012

    ROBW4,

    Your system is completely unworkable in reality.

    First, are we to assume all of these states are really going to be “professional” under the notion of the article?
    Second, how are we going to pay for all this?
    Third, who gets to decide where the central rugby city will be? A lot of these states especially once you leave the northeast it’s not like it’s a comfy drive down the road for everyone to reach the central city of the state. As an example, take the state of Virginia. You have good clubs in the state in Norfolk (the far southeastern corner), NOVA (up by D.C.), Richmond (couple hours from either). Most of your players will be from either Norfolk, NOVA, or players playing for some of the other D.C. sides living in Virginia. How or where are you going to get all these guys together and who’s covering their travel stipends?

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2012 by in Editorials.
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