Aviva Premiership games to make Transatlantic move?

News has emerged that the top man of USA Rugby, former England scrum-half Nigel Melville, is to fly to London next month for a meeting with Premier Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty to discuss controversial proposals that would see several Premiership matches staged across the Atlantic in some of the NFL’s largest stadia.

The revelation comes a few weeks after rumours emerged that top clubs in England had been in talks with owners of some of the biggest American Football teams in the USA.

“We are looking to extend our ties with American rugby and open up the US market commercially,” McCafferty said. “We have had a lot of approaches and a lot of discussions from people who want us to play Premiership matches out there. They can see the prospect of getting anything from 50,000 to 70,000 into their stadia. It’s quite a step at the moment but I won’t rule it out for the future.

“How quickly it will happen is difficult to tell. With the right investment it could happen sooner rather than later. The US is definitely an area we would like to target. Sport is going global. It’s probably only a matter of time before the NFL has a franchise over here. Major league baseball is starting in Australia next year. The European golf tour holds a number of their tournaments in Asia.

“Rugby has to be careful it doesn’t get left behind. It has the World Cup and a brilliant property in the Lions but beyond that you have complexities on a multi-national level. We would ultimately like to see a world club championship every four years.”

Melville’s trip to London is ostensibly to discuss feedback on the inaugural World Club 7s, in which New York and San Francisco both entered a team. However, the discussions will continue beyond that to discuss the viability of staging several Premiership matches in America.

“There’s been talk about a pre-season game in the US between two Premiership teams as a warm-up but Americans aren’t interested in friendlies,” Melville said. “Any game would have to be a real game. The biggest challenge will be finding the right time and the right venue. Some baseball stadia will fit a rugby pitch but they are in-season throughout the summer.”

There were plans to play a London Irish v US Barbarians game at the New England Patriots’ stadium near Boston a fortnight ago, but they fell through. The American promotors responsible insist the game is still on the table and has merely been postponed, rather than cancelled.

Michael Clements, from RugbyLaw International – the would-be promoters based in Minneapolis who appointed former England centre Henry Paul as the Barbarians’ head coach – said: “If you are going to launch a rocket, you have to listen to your engineers and delay the launch if they tell you conditions aren’t optimal.”

There are still plans despite this setback to launch a national rugby football league in America, but the major problem remains finding investors willing to cough up the cash to support such a league. The player base would come ready-made in the shape of pro-level athletes currently not playing at the highest level. “America is already the undisputed global leader in professional contact football with the NFL,” he said. “The richest resource America can present to the rugby world will be the thousands of pro-level athletes currently not playing Rugby Union.”

What do you make of these plans? Are they good for the game, or would you rather Aviva Premiership games remained in England?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

8 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership games to make Transatlantic move?

  1. The EPL had a similar idea but how do you play regular season games abroad? Which team losses out on a home game? Do you add an extra game and if so who do you play? Lots of difficulties to figure out never mind the actual physical logistics :)

  2. Seems ridiculous to me. Think of it the other way – would you suddenly get into American Football just because the superbowl champs were playing a game in your backyard? Sure, you might pop along and watch it but it’s not going to increase participation. And that’s with a team that us Brits have heard of.

    So Saracens v Saints in Boston isn’t suddenly going to attract a load of curious yanks who’ve only not put their kids into rugby clubs or not signed up for rugby TV channels. It’ll get ex-pats, people already interested and a load of corporate nonsense. At the same time it’ll alienate actual Saracens/Saints fans who regularly go to watch their club.

    The idea that a sport will be made popular in country X simply because the best team from country Y pops along always amuses me. There are no shortcuts – you need to grow it from the ground up – schools, schools, more schools and local clubs.

    1. I agree. Everyone involved is going to look pretty silly when a NFL stadium that seats 80,000 people has only 1,000 (and that would be a real stretch too) for a match involving AP teams. The US has proper rugby pitches; why aren’t those an option? The match will be televised and available to anyone with a television, but how good is that when the general public has never seen rugby before and has no idea of what’s going on.

      Yeah, building from the ground up is crucial. Just because the US has pro-level athletes available, that doesn’t they will be able to transition to rugby. American football isn’t exactly similar to rugby, I would argue that they are two very different sports. Plus, starting in your early twenties and not your early teens or younger is a huge disadvantage. If US rugby is serious about getting better, they would really push to get rugby in schools, or at least, encourage clubs to start youth programs. The latter is probably more feasible.

    2. I actually disagree. I watch a lot of NFL, and certainly more so after in being played at Wembley a few times. Whilst I don’t play, it has certainly raised interest in the sport and participation in the UK has risen considerably in the past few seasons that the NFL have played a game here.

      Also, I have a few friends from the US, and Rugby over there is getting more popular. Whilst I’m not suggesting we play a game there and everyone takes it up, it is a good step to get sport in their face. The American way is that they want the best, they want hype – so advertised properly I am sure the stadium will fill with “Sports Fans”.

      Don’t disagree on schools and clubs being the key to participation mind you, that is clearly necessary. But again, that is happening over there. A game over there would just be a little extra rugby to gain a bit more attention.

      And on alienating fans, I’m not sure where I sit. Wasps played a game against Quins (believe it was LV cup mind you), in Dubai a few years ago, and that went relatively well. I don’t think there are any Wasps fans alienated off the back of that? Was it Sharks vs Crusaders at Twickenham a season or two ago? Great day out, and again, were Sharks and Crusaders fans abandoning ship or feeling alienated?

      1. I’m actually an American. I don’t believe that a match between AP clubs will draw that much interest. If it was a match involving the All Blacks, that is a different story. Honestly, the only group of people who will be interested are the ones who watch rugby (ex-pats and US rugby players). It’s just not a high profile match. In terms of filling a stadium with “true fans,” I have a hard time believing that. We have trouble filling the capacity for USA games, and where they play holds a lot less people.

        I definitely agree that rugby is getting more popular, and the youth participation is growing (I think it’s the fastest growing youth sport in the US), but it will never be more than a fringe sport because the focus is on football, basketball, or baseball. Plus, there is a real and widespread perception that rugby is dangerous (even though it much safer than football!). A lot of adults don’t want to play for that reason and parents are hesitant to let their children play. However, it’s not all doom and gloom with me because I really believe that 7s will become the default version of rugby due to the Olympics. I think Americans will enjoy it much more because it’s much easier to understand and there is a lot more scoring.

    3. Sorry forgot to mention. Let’s be honest – this is about money, which the Premiership will make a lot of. And to be honest, I don’t have a massive issue with that. As long as it is one game a season, and it is worked out sensibly, then great.

  3. i like rugby game its very intrusting game and its very nice played the players and its very fast running after the five minutes in goal its like every one and every child i wish that i see live match…

Comments are closed.