Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Opinion: Wales, South Africa In D.C. Is A RIM Gamble

It's official. By now most people have seen that Wales and South Africa will play at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on June 2nd. The news is significant for several reasons. First, it's being put on by Rugby International Marketing and it doesn't involve the Eagles or the All Blacks. That's a first and it's going to be a big test for the organization. While Wales and South Africa certainly have history and passionate fanbases they don't nearly have the same international reach and cache as the All Blacks. They also don't have the appeal of being the home side like the Eagles would have.

So far RIM's record has been mixed at best. The Rugby Channel hasn't taken off like some hoped and speculated and outside of the All Blacks matches there hasn't exactly been a big turnout at matches. One of the goals of RIM was to make money for U.S.A. Rugby and other investors. That money would then be poured back into the investors to grow the game. So far it hasn't done that. RIM needs the event to be successful. If it isn't it will just call into question whether the venture is worth continuing.

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Whether or not this event is going to be a success is a huge question. There is no doubt that there is a strong South African fanbase in the United States but are they are willing to travel as New Zealanders? The All Blacks have been on top of the rugby world for years and people want to see a winner. The Springboks haven't exactly been lighting things up recently. That might not help motivate people to make the trip. Wales can be a draw but the principality isn't exactly the biggest in terms of population.

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Then there is the location. Playing in Washington, D.C. is a good idea. There is a strong rugby community in the area and it can be a draw from people as far away as Boston and Atlanta. They can make the quick trip and back without breaking the bank. From that standpoint playing in D.C. is long overdue. At the same time, RFK might be one of the worst stadiums in America. It's so bad that D.C. United refused to play there while their new stadium is being built. Instead, they've essentially chosen to play the first half of their season on the road. RFK is old, it is literally crumbling (that article is from 2011), raccoons are rampant, and there are enormous cockroaches. It does not offer the greatest of fan experiences and if you are looking to bring in locals to the match unless it's priced cheaply they would probably rather avoid RFK all together.

Lastly, the biggest obstacle to the match is the timing. It falls on the same weekend as the Club Championships in Glendale and the CRC in Philadelphia. Granted, all three are drawing in different kinds of crowds. Fans don't generally travel to the Club Championships and over the past few years the CRC has had to rely on a lot of local Philadelphia support even though people turn up. There could still be plenty of people that are able to turn up but it's that much harder. There probably isn't an ideal time to hold the match. The calendar is full so there is no avoiding conflicts but they still exist.

Then there is also the comments of WRU CEO Martyn Phillips. In articles speculating about the match he said: "It wouldn't be against America. We would play another side, a proper side in the U.S, the week before Argentina, on June 2." Ouch. Those comments still  rankle even if he didn't intend them to.

All in all the match faces a lot of obstacles and for an organization like RIM that is on dicey ground as it is it is a bit of a gamble. Maybe it's a gamble that they need to take in order to succeed. Who knows? It could pay off big time. At the same time it could fail spectacularly and who pays the cost? The American rugby public who face setting the game back in terms of sponsorships if it doesn't work out.


  1. I live about 5 hours from DC and have a free place to stay out in the burbs, so I may try to make it there. I played a season of club rugby in Cape Town and will probably sport my Bokke jersey.

  2. I live about 1.5 hours from RFK and plan on going with the wife and kids. We will be rooting for RSA. 20,000 in the seats would shock me.

  3. Both the AB / US and AB / Ireland games had thousands of tourists following their teams and helped fill Soldiers FieldIf the Welsh fans decide that this is a good time to travel to the States a good turnout is possible. Relying on a domestic crowd to fill the stands is risky to say the least. It's a shame that the US was not included in this with a curtain raiser match.

    1. Totally agree on the curtain raiser idea. Shocked that can't happen. The current June games are the 9th and 16th and I know the rugby public has been asking for another game. Seems like a no brainer to me.