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