How to grow rugby in the USA
Super Rugby is considering including the USA and Canada in possible expansion plans. It is a sign of the times that rugby is quite keen to grow in one of the biggest untapped markets in the world and should be taken as a very positive thing for the game.
But I just wonder if having a San Francisco or New York team playing the Crusaders or Blues in the same competition is necessarily a good idea for the players or fans or the competition itself.
When it comes to travel distances, Super Rugby players often spending a day or two on the plane to get from one place to the other to play their games. The recent expansion of the competition has certainly seen the demands on players increase and has resulted in Super Rugby squads fielding bigger teams to cope with the increased likelihood of injuries.
To add more teams would certainly not be popular with SANZAR's current partners as we've already seen with the much heated controversy over South Africa wanting to fit both the Southern Kings and Lions.
However, SANZAR does have an opportunity to have some say in the governance of rugby in the USA and Canada, via the establishment of a competition with similar designs to Super Rugby but based exclusively in the USA and Canada. It would be a feeder competition to Super Rugby and could possibly provide an answer for the SANZAR unions to combat the power of the Northern Hemisphere club sides in dragging their players over to play for them due to higher wage possibilities.
There is plenty of money in professional sport in the USA and Canada. Professional athletes like the NBA's LeBron James, NFL's Tom Brady, and the NHL's Alexander Ovechkin are amongst the highest wage earners on the planet.
Super Rugby could adopt some of the ideas used by the Indian Premier League and create a franchise-based competition with plenty of corporate sponsorship from the wealthy American and Canadian companies.
This would be highly attractive for aspiring Pacific Island rugby players as well as New Zealand, Australian and South African rugby players who are in their mid-20s, just on the fringes of national selection and would have gone to Europe to finish off their careers. Plus Americans and Canadians would improve significantly by playing alongside players from the more established rugby nations. The SANZAR unions could agree that players in this USA/Canada competition could be eligible to play for their home countries, albeit limited by a specific quota.
So what should the format of this competition be? Given the size of USA and Canada, it should adopt an east/west conference system like the big three pro sport leagues over there. This could be the initial lineup of the franchises:
Can rugby crack the already saturated New York sports market?
Whatever happens, this is certainly exciting times for rugby as a global sport.
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