Premiership welcome PRO14 as rival in US land grab

Date published: September 12 2017

Premiership Rugby has welcomed competition from their PRO14 rivals for a piece of the potentially lucrative and largely-untapped US market.

Newcastle Falcons will tackle Saracens in Philadelphia on Saturday in the latest Premiership showcase designed to increase the footprint of English rugby’s top flight, fuel the league's commercial growth and develop the game in the States.

They are not the only ones keen to broaden their horizons with the recently-expanded PRO14 having reportedly set their sights on introducing a US-based franchise in the near future.

However, Premiership Rugby commercial director Dominic Hayes insists they are not concerned by PRO14’s advances into North America and instead believe it could be for the benefit of all.

“We are keen for rugby to grow and develop and establish itself in the US in a long-term sustainable way,” he explained. “That’s good for us, that’s good for PRO14, it’s good for rugby as a sport, and it’s great for World Rugby.

“So as long as the work being done by the various stakeholders in rugby has an eye on a long-term sustainable future then I think everybody wins in that respect.”

Hayes believes that the success of any venture into the United States is dependent on it also supporting USA Rugby’s own efforts to grow the wider game and pinpointed Premiership Rugby’s partnerships with broadcasters NBC and promoters AEG.

“It’s a case of making sure that there is alignment,” he said. “That is why partnering with AEG is so important for us, again, fundamentally for them is the alignment with USA Rugby, and the alignment with NBC as the primary rugby broadcaster in the market place, to make sure we have all got this long-term vision in mind as opposed to anticipating some kind of flash and burn, we’ll all be rich tomorrow.

“This isn’t going to happen in the next two to three years, it is a much longer build for rugby to become a sustainable and significant commercial venture in the US.”

The clash at the 18,500-capacity Talen Energy Stadium will be the second Premiership match staged in the States following Saracens’ victory over London Irish in front of 14,811 fans at the Red Bull Arena in New York last year.

Premiership Rugby insist they learnt some valuable lessons from that game and as a result this year’s fixture is a ‘much more ambitious’ event.

Coaching clinics, referee education initiatives and a talent exchange programme form part of plan to build a ‘much deeper relationship’ with the local community ahead of the game and leave a lasting impression in the area.

“We won’t necessarily judge the success by the number on the day, because there are far more layers to this event and is a much more ambitious event than New York ever was,” insisted a Premiership Rugby official.

Hayes added: “The aim is to develop a long-term relationship with our partners and work with them on their aspirations to grow the game in the States. 

“This is a happy marriage of our league, a great promotional partner in AEG Rugby with huge ambition and a fantastic broadcaster in NBC who have also a got an appetite to grow the game in the US. It is great to be part of that and the evolution of rugby as a sport.”

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by Graham Jenkins in Philadelphia