By BRIAN LOWE
North America Editor
EVEN before the dust had settled on a successful World Cup, there was a lot of chatter around the global rugby league community about the need to expand the game internationally.
We need to strike while the iron’s hot. We’ve got to make sure the Pacific island countries play their own Four Nations style competition and we have to hatch plans to bring the game to the United States. And it all has to be done now to build on the momentum of RLWC2017.
Folks all over the place have been opining that it’s essential for the game’s success internationally for America to be part of the mix.
Right away a proposal was put out there for England and New Zealand to play a game stateside this June. Denver was proposed as a likely venue, although it beats me why you’d pick the Mile High city when New York or Los Angeles would be no-brainers. There are direct flights to either place from just about anywhere in the world, Denver not so much. Just sayin’.
Sydney-based sports event management company Moore Sports International reportedly came up with the idea but when I asked president and CEO Jason Moore for more detail he said he is “not making any comments at the moment.”
That was before Christmas and the game is still not confirmed, however, according to the RFL we should have a decision one way or the other by the end of January. Guess we’ll see.
During the World Cup, word also spread of a plan for a New York City-based team to enter the English Championship in 2019 a la the Toronto Wolfpack. And since then, we’ve heard murmurs of yet more potential teams popping up in Philadelphia, Boston and the Canadian city of Hamilton.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the notion of bringing professional rugby league to the US and Canada. In fact, I’m all for it. But you’ll have to excuse me because I’m just not buying into all the hype.
As the Farmers Insurance TV ad goes, “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.”
What I mean by that is, I have been covering league and union in this country since 1998 and have seen similar concepts in the past, all of which have come and gone. Admittedly, they have all been rugby union plans, but that’s no surprise given that code has a way bigger footprint and a much longer history here.
They talked about setting up city-based leagues that never happened. Then it was a professional club competition that lasted all of one season before going belly-up and this year they’re about to embark on a seven-team Major League Rugby comp modelled on soccer’s MLS.
American rugby union has also been hosting the world’s leading international sides for years with the likes of Australia, South Africa and Ireland all touring. Plus, there are Autumn Tests that the US men’s national team regularly plays in Europe. And you know what? It has done didly squat in helping the game become anything other than a fringe sport in this country.
So, the point is we’ve heard it all before. The one big difference is there hasn’t been a Rugby World Cup in the USA.
As we know, the RLIF has earmarked RLWC2025 to be co-hosted by the United States and Canada, and assuming they stick with that plan, one would expect that they will get serious about bringing the international game to these shores to build interest over the next seven years.
Well, it’s in their financial interests to do so isn’t it?
One major thing the RLIF and others need to be aware of is where union has dropped the ball. Those guys haven’t been able to get much traction on television, which in turn means there is next to no return on investment (ROI) for potential backers.
Perhaps it’s because union is an inferior TV product, which I happen to think it is, but without being on TV, as well as electronic devices, where sponsors can advertise to millions of eyeballs, it will always be an uphill battle.
If rugby league can get it right, there’s no reason why the England versus New Zealand game can’t go ahead this year. And if it does, and if it’s a success, it will hopefully lead to more and I’m all for that.