Former USA Eagles captain Dan Lyle is hoping the English Premiership’s American Series of matches staged Stateside can replicate the success of the NFL’s foray into the UK.
This weekend will see Newcastle Falcons take on Saracens at the 18,500-capacity Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia as part of a new four-year agreement between Premiership Rugby and AEG, a world leading sports and live entertainment company.
Lyle, who is partly responsible for fuelling the development of the game in the States as director of AEG’s rugby division, is confident the revamped event will capture the imagination of US rugby fans just like American Football supporters have embraced those games staged at Wembley Stadium and Twickenham in recent years.
“We’re not a charity, neither is the Premiership or these clubs, it is a commercial activity so we are chasing that, but we are all doing it with our eyes wide open,” said the former Bath and Leicester back row forward.
“This is a multi-year approach, not unlike the International Series for the NFL, where it builds value, gains traction year-on-year and that’s what we are looking to do.
“I think we’ll accelerate significantly from this year to next year and then maybe move into a larger stadium after that.”
The fixture is the second Premiership game to be staged in the States following Saracens’ victory over London Irish in New York last year, a game which was not promoted by AEG and which drew an official crowd of 14,811 to the Red Bull Arena.
“We can’t pretend that the quality of American rugby is there across the board just yet, and so there is the cyclical pattern to this,” explained Lyle. “It is about bringing in the best in the world and exposing the audience and the rugby-playing populous.
“This partnership is hand-in-glove with USA Rugby. Everything that AEG Rugby does we want to make sure it complements USA Rugby’s strategy and that strategy is evolving.
“It’s not one market in America, it is multiple markets, multiple regions and cities. This is a beachhead for Premiership Rugby. It’s an investment in the first couple of years when you have to get people creating a value behind the brand.”
Lyle also believes the annual event can form part of a ‘season of rugby’ in the US that would offer teams, fans, sponsors, broadcasters and other stakeholders a substantial return on their investment.
“The ‘season of rugby’ is not just about a singular match, it is about the year-long strategy that the Premiership and AEG and NBC are putting together,” explained Lyle.
“We can say that this set of weekends throughout the year is international weekends, or world class fixture matches so clubs are not scheduling matches. That takes a little bit of time to reconstruct the dialogue but it is the only way for us to go from 1.0 to 2.0.”
Lyle also insists that the success of the event will not be defined by the attendance in Philadelphia.
“Success is that we build a property in the American Series events and the year-round development strategy that allows us to bring in better partners, aligned to a season that everyone can aspire to and that both the clubs and the teams walk away with a feeling that they have contributed to that as well as enhancing their own capacity.”
BT Sport is where the best in sport go to head-to-head. Watch Newcastle Falcons v Saracens live from Philadelphia on Saturday 16th September on BT Sport 3 from 9pm. For more info go to bt.com/sport
by Graham Jenkins in Philadelphia