NFL Reportedly Joins Plan Aimed At Bringing Professional Rugby Union To U.S.
Premier Rugby Ltd., which represents the English Premiership clubs, and the NFL "are to jointly back an innovative rugby union plan in the U.S.," according to Tom Dart of the London GUARDIAN. London Irish "will play an exhibition game this summer" against a U.S. team "blending international stars and promising young talent." The goal is to eventually "create a professional rugby union competition" in the U.S. The match will take place at Gillette Stadium near Boston on Aug. 10 and be called the Independence Cup. It is "the first step toward establishing an East Coast league of about six teams from Boston to Miami that would begin as early as next year." The fixture is backed by Premier Rugby Ltd. and the NFL via its NFL Network TV channel, "which is set to broadcast the game." A return match in London "will take place a week later and could be televised in the U.K. and Ireland by BT Sport, the new Premiership rights holder." If the event is a success, "the plan is to build on that momentum," and seek potential investors who are "willing to pay for one of the new franchises and to conclude deals to play fixtures in NFL stadiums." The NFL Network "is hoping to find live sports to cover outside of the American football season" (GUARDIAN, 5/11).
A 'TALL ORDER': In the GUARDIAN's Talking Sport blog, Dart wrote the scheme "is the brainchild" of U.S.-based promoters George Robertson and Michael Clements. They formed a company called RugbyLaw and "have been in negotiations with potential partners for months." Robertson and Clements believe that the "prudent, slow start" made by Major League Soccer since its formation in '96 "has doomed soccer to limited growth and appeal in the U.S." They feel that Americans "will only embrace a new competition if it is high-grade right from the start and that fans will not have the patience to wait a decade or more for a league to become credible, as was the case with MLS." In this view, the "planned six-team league in NFL stadiums along the East Coast needs to be privately-run." Governing bodies "lack the ambition, energy, international focus and business intelligence to expand leagues." To work, the RugbyLaw scheme "needs to find investors willing to sink tens of millions of dollars into the project." It "is a tall order but the involvement of the NFL could prove highly significant" (GUARDIAN, 5/11).