It has always been a mystery how rugby league has made little progress in the USA.
Rugby league has all of the elements that should attract American sports fans and with a population of 325 million people from all corners of the globe, it would be feasible then that a professional competition should have been long established.
Rugby league in America is an amateur sport a known only to expats and confused with rugby union to all others. The high impact, padding free, sport is viewed with surprise and envy to those Americans introduced to the sport.
Surprisingly, it was from the Americans northern neighbour Canada that the first truly professional rugby league team from North America has emerged, the Toronto Wolfpack. Established by independent businessmen to gain entry to the English Super League Competition via the lower tiers of the English game.
After winning the 3rd Tier competition in 2017 and moving to the 2nd tier, the goal is one step away from reality. I have stated in previous articles how it amazes me Toronto may be in the Super League UK before Perth has a team in NRL.
If as predicted they win the Championship this year they will enter the Super League in 2019. North America will host the 2025 World Cup. The aim to awake the sleeping giant.
However, with no recognition or knowledge of rugby league existence, it could be both a financial and PR disaster. Recently news came that a consortium is trying to establish a Team in New York with the same path as forged by the Wolfpack. With a population of 8.5 million, all they would need is less than 1% to make an impact.
Another consortium from Boston also has desires to follow New York and Toronto. So, with the first steps of professionalism, why are the NRL and Super League leaving it to individual external forces to drive rugby league in the USA?
Imagine if the governing bodies put effort into professionalising rugby league in USA prior to the World Cup? The rewards would be incomprehensible.
MAJOR LEAGUE LEAGUE?
Rugby league doesn't have to try and take the US in one attempt by going the breadth of the country either. An eight or ten team competition will do to kick start.
As Toronto Wolfpack exists and New York and potentially Boston are wanting to follow suit in its attempts to gain English Super League status, the competition can start on the east coast of North America. Toronto, New York, New Jersey, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Jacksonville could all be potential team locations.
These locations populations combined are more than the population of Australia. The competition would have to play in Spring or Autumn due to the harsh winter conditions on the east coast of North America.
Surely if the NRL, Super League and US & Canadian Rugby League can work together they would be able to attract a few sponsorships, get some TV and media and start up the competition. I'm sure if they can get things humming, private ownership would follow.
The potential for huge financial rewards should be enough for initial funding. Perhaps the name of the game could be changed to remove "rugby" to stop confusion that the game is rugby union. League USA as the name might work. I guess we can't use the usual US sports monikers as Major League League just won't do!
MORE MANFRED MOORES?
Consider the number of college athletes that do not make it into the professional ranks of the NFL. Less than 2% of college gridiron players graduate to the professional ranks.
Of the 3000 submissions into the NFL draft each year, only around 220 are taken in the draft and of those less than half make it into full-time NFL rosters. Some make there way to the Canadian equivalent of the NFL or the US Indoor Arena League. That leaves one hell of a talent pool wanting to become a professional athlete each year.
OK, many would not be suited to League and the 80-minute grind of attack and defence may scare many away. Many aspects of gridiron are similar but would they be willing to play without the padding and helmets remains to be seen. There are also existing US rugby union college and semi-professional players in competitions who might turn to a more professional game.
Add in some star power of players like Jarryd Hayne, Cameron Smith & Billy Slater and you have yourself a competition worth watching.
GO WEST YOUNG MAN! And WOMAN!
If the east coast can be conquered, go west young man! The bounty is endless if both west and east can be won. Double the odds and establish a woman's League. Can you imagine the endless possibility?
Potential is one thing, the reality is another but let's look at the facts:
- Rugby league is compatible with Gridion
- The United States loves contact sports
- Potentially huge player pool
- Huge population base
- Existing & established teams exist
- Existing playing fields
- Huge corporate potential
- Great super pay for NRL and Super League players near the end of their career
If rugby league is ever going to be a reality in North America, the powers that be must act now before the 2025 World Cup while there is independent investors willing to be involved and an existing footprint. To wait for a reaction from the World Cup might be a gamble to high a risk.
So, can North America be conquered? Do league fans really care?