So, we start another Rugby Super League season in the USA this weekend. The Dallas Harlequins travel to Atlanta to take on Life University. Recent Report on Rugby Super League meetings tell us that the league wants to be at the table for any talks about professional rugby in the USA.
USA Rugby Participation Data shows that California, New York and Pennsylvania have the most rugby players. Illinois (Chicago), Texas, Colorado and Utah have good numbers – but are well behind. These states represent the majority of the Super League. It makes sense to begin any professional league with the clubs that have been doing this sort of national, top-tier competition for a while. We know Glendale would challenge us. We also know the Frisco Griffins in the Dallas area have built a top-notch organization (organization matters when making a pro team more than quality of play in a given year). And these clubs would have legitimate rights to make a case for inclusion in professional rugby if it were to come to that.
Just so you know we are not coming out of left field on the possibility of pro rugby. Read these links:
SANZAR’s Interest In North America
Tatham’s Plans For 7s
USA Rugby’s Nigel Melville is not waiting to entertain discussions
So, this is where the questions begin. What should it look like? Does it look like the English club set up – sort of like American professional sports now – with a franchise in a city? Or, is it more of a New Zealand or Welsh/Irish model – regional pro teams that draw from an area.
We think the regional system, while working very well in New Zealand and other part of the world, is foreign to Americans in terms of professionalism. The Houston Texans compete on the market for players – as do English and French rugby clubs – and players are free to go where they please. So Americans are used to this free-agency model.
What cities get teams? Start with the Super League and add two (Philadelphia and Los Angeles). Why those two? They are largest cities in the two of the three largest rugby-playing states (New York already represented, twice).
Does the league own the teams to start? Who pays?
Someone’s gotta sell it to the Clark Hunts, Robert Krafts and Oscar De La Hoyas of the world (these guys own Major League Soccer teams – and NFL teams in the case of Kraft and Hunt).
Does that means San Francisco Golden Gate RFC would be owned by someone, and no longer a club? Yikes. Maybe they could do a shareholder thing like the Green Bay Packers? But can OPSB in Seattle find enough old boys/friends to pony up? Russell Crowe owns a majority stake in a rugby league team in Australia that used to be a shareholder-held club, so there are examples out there.
Professional rugby is coming to the United States – 7s, 15s – it is coming. We have 300 million sets of TV-loving eyeballs, plus more if you add Canada. When? What does it look like? Those are different questions. It happened in soccer, and the MLS is expanding.
As rugby fans, we would like to see it model the English system and keep historic clubs – at the beginning. We think teams should be able to petition to join – perhaps even rearrange USA Rugby to give play-in options (as in England). However, promotion and relegation are new to the USA, too. But that is another column.
We’d love to hear from you.