The big talk around the water cooler yesterday revolved around comments made by SANZAR boss Greg Peters in regards to possible expansion of Super Rugby into
Rugby is, without doubt, one of
the top professional competitions on the planet and the concept is not new to
fans of American rugby. Any fan of rugby can appreciate and enjoy the standard
of play in Super Rugby and the continued high-performance of the SANZAR nations
at the international level is astounding. There have been many great points made over the years as to how they can benefit American rugby.
SANZAR has been talking about bringing Super Rugby to
Since 2006, Super Rugby attendance figures have dropped steadily. In 2006,
Now you can see why they need
Even with an already saturated sports market, America
has room for growth. It is obvious that they see packed sports stadiums across
the land and salivate at tapping into our vast sports-mad society. Make no
bones about it; SANZAR and Super Rugby only want America
for one reason… money. America
If SANZAR wasn’t worried about money, then why haven’t they tried to expand Super Rugby into
already has ties to SANZAR and has more players ready for professional level
rugby than Argentina North America. They could easily fill a
franchise that would be competitive and logistically better than a team on the
SANZAR boss Peters said it best in a recent comment to the Australian, “Ultimately it all comes down to what is in the best interests of the three SANZAR parties."
That’s right… the three SANZAR parties. He didn’t say one word about what is in the best interest of
Japan , or the Canada .
That is because, in their minds, we are not part of the discussion. They will
choose when they are ready for USA North America, not the
other way around. After all, they have our best interests in mind.
No, wait. They don’t.
Think about it. Super
sits at 15 teams.
is ready to add one more team to bring the number to 16 teams. Super South Africa Rugby
plans are to expand to 18 total teams and have
and Japan in
mind for the two additional franchises. America
North America gets one
team. With a roster of approximately 30 players, that means only about 10-15 Americans get a job in Super Rugby. Another 5-10 will go to Canadian players
and you can bet the remaining roster spots are reserved for current Super Rugby
players that they will use to “bolster” the team since they have concerns about our ability to compete.
Of the roster spots reserved for Americans, it is probably a safe bet that Super Rugby officials will request players that are already playing professionally so that their standards are met. Therefore, it isn’t likely to create many new professional opportunities for American rugby players.
How is that helping the development of rugby in
Reliable sources state that USA Rugby and
identified approximately 100-120 players of professional caliber between the
two unions. This identification process has taken place in preparation for professional rugby. That number will only grow in the coming years with recent
high-performance developments and the Olympics drawing and/or keeping
high-caliber athletes to rugby. Canada
What will one Super Rugby team accomplish towards helping those players? Again, Super Rugby is not concerned with anything outside of improving their negotiating advantage with TV broadcasters.
If they want to saturate the American sports market, placing one team on the West Coast is not going to get the job done. The team’s schedule will be a logistical nightmare involving extensive travel. The likelihood of the team getting many home matches is remote. With a 16 game Super Rugby schedule, there is a great chance that the team will be relegated to playing a series of mini-tours or games in “neutral” locations.
The logistics alone point towards putting two teams in
as a better option for Super Rugby. SANZAR boss Peters also noted player
welfare as being a concern for Super Rugby. If they were truly concerned about
player welfare, then Japan North America would not even be a
consideration for Super Rugby.
If they want to break into
they are going to need an entire conference full of teams in the market and not
just one or even four teams, but more like 8-10. Even then, the idea of a multi-country
competition, spanning half the globe, will be a tough sell to sports fans that
are used to continental bragging rights.
Which brings us to the next point. It has been said many times over… the American rugby enthusiast only makes up a fraction of the audience that it will take to sustain professional rugby in
Casual rugby fans and the average American sports fan have to fill in the void.
The average American sports fan is the wild card and the largest segment of the puzzle. Studies show that sports fans
are very open to the idea of watching and following rugby. There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that rugby is growing in America. This demographic is
game altering. They also care very little about international competitions
other than the Olympics. America
This is where Super Rugby has already failed if they are looking at expansion as early as 2016. They assume that everyone will immediately fall in love with their competition because it is some of the highest-level rugby played on the planet. It really is… no argument there. However, the average American sports fan feeds on domestic rivalries and a Crusaders/Hurricanes battle will not get any attention unless ESPN tells them to watch it. If SANZAR was interested in winning over
they should have been giving away content to outlets like ESPN years ago to
test the market. Taking one step further, they should have already played a few games on American soil.
While SANZAR has commented on expansion into
USA Rugby has remained relatively mum on the subject. Years ago, when the idea was bandied
about, it received a fairly warm reception from USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville as
they were keen to keep their options open at a time where professional
prospects were still way off. This time around… not so much. America
Yesterday Melville commented on twitter:
“Interesting to hear we are on Super Rugby’s radar – but are they on ours?”
The tides have seemingly changed as USA Rugby is growing at an exponential rate and attendance at events continues to trend upward. With at least two separate groups currently working on building a domestic professional rugby competition, the glamour of having a Super Rugby franchise on the West Coast has lost its luster. The same can be said of placing a East Coast team in a European competition.
At this point, focusing on getting a domestic competition standing on a sound foundation has to be of the utmost importance for
America. It is the way forward to sustainable and concrete growth
of rugby on levels in both the United States and Canada. With that in mind, it is hard to imagine a scenario where
there was a Super Rugby franchise in
at the same time as a newborn domestic professional rugby competition. America
That is not to say that there isn’t room for some outside of the box thinking and collaboration. Such as a Heineken Cup style tournament with teams from Super Rugby,
North America, and .
That will provide Super Rugby a much-coveted outlet into Japan played prior to the fall international window North
America without undermining efforts to build professional rugby in
the and USA .
Yesterday, someone commented on placing a combined PNC squad in Canada .
On the other side of the pond, a North American team or two could participate
in the Heineken Cup. Hawaii
Ideas, such as those mentioned and others, have potential for all parties involved. Note: “All Parties Involved”… not just SANZAR. This is no longer a one-way street. The time has come where SANZAR needs
America more than we need them. That is called leverage. Pray that
it gets used to the benefit of all levels of the game in North