The growth of rugby in America is always going to be compared to the growth of soccer. There are many reasons—a sport invented abroad, continuous play, etc. Many of these comparisons can be very helpful. After all, soccer has enjoyed tremendous growth in this country over the last two decades. It has essentially gone from a sport played by kids on a Saturday morning to a sport with a fully professional league followed by millions of fans. Rugby will eventually get to that point, but right now it is in it’s infancy.
Still, there are somethings that rugby could borrow upon that could help grow the sport now. One of those is the club friendly. For the last several Summers, Major League Soccer has organized a series of friendlies featuring marquee teams from Europe and South America. Sometimes they play MLS teams, sometimes they play other European teams. This year teams like Celtic, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool, PSG, and Manchester United are participating. These friendlies draw tens of thousands of people, are shown on ESPN, and raise the overall awareness of the sport here in the United States with people unfamiliar with MLS, and with people abroad.
Now, rugby is nowhere near matching the branding that these clubs have around the world. Even the most popular club rugby teams can’t match the support that Manchester United or Liverpool has. Still, any time a professional rugby team comes to America people pay attention. It’s time for European teams to come to the U.S. to play in club friendlies.
Up front there are two obstacles to this ever happening. First is the lack of a professional club teams here in America. Don’t be mistaken: teams like Old Puget Sound Beach, New York Athletic Club, and San Francisco Golden Gate are terrific clubs that should be congratulated for their work, but they don’t offer the facilities or the personnel to deal with a visiting Premiership or Top 14 club. However, a Super League All-Star team or the Eagles Select XV might. Imagine a group of the best Super League players matching up against a team like Leicester. They may still get blown out, but the quality wouldn’t be that bad.
The second big obstacle to having European teams tour the U.S. is a lack of money. Most European club teams aren’t fat cats and don’t have the money to bankroll a trip to the U.S. on their own. Even European soccer teams can’t do that. For MLS, they have set up a separate venture that promotes friendly matches. They pour loads of money into assuring that the games are on television and there are people in the stands. Rugby in America doesn’t have that option. A few years ago when Clermont played the Eagles, only a few thousand people showed up. Promotion was a large part of that. Any series of friendlies with a European club would have to be promoted in order to get butts in seats.
Even though there are plenty of obstacles to such an event happening, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth a try. There is a big market for rugby in America but it takes the faith of someone or some company to put up the money. The payoff might not be immediate, but as rugby in this country grows from exposure, they would eventually see rewards.
In terms of play, a series of summer friendlies would be a huge boon to American players. We have talented players but they need experience against tough competition. The current club season does its best, but it just doesn’t provide the kind of quality we need. A few additional games in the summer would go a long way to developing American rugby players.
One of the side products of European soccer teams visiting the United States and playing MLS sides is that they have been exposed to the quality of American players. Previously American players were dismissed because of where they were born. But after teams got a chance to see how good they were, they began to sign contracts in Europe. It can be the same for rugby. Seta Tuilevuka and Samu Manoa are two players plucked from the club system in American who have had success in Europe. Maybe a good result from a Super League or club all-star team might seem more Americans given a chance in Europe.
Do you think European rugby teams would ever tour America? What obstacles do you see? What benefits do you see?
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.