The NFL hopes to capitalize on New England’s strong Irish roots when it partners with Premier Rugby League to bring the London Irish to Gillette Stadium this summer. (image via S&B Media)
The NFL is hands down the most popular sport in the United States. From lucrative media contracts and billionaire dollar stadiums, the NFL is also one of the most professional and forward thinking businesses in the U.S. With that being said, as of recent the NFL has teamed up with the Premier Rugby League to create a professional rugby league here in the U.S. Accordingly, scheduling has already been made to have an exhibition game played at the New England Patriots stadium, which will be televised on the NFL Network in August.
Not surprisingly, rugby ranks as one of the top sports in the entire world. Seemingly crushing American football in a popularity contest. Consequently, with the heightened growth of the sport in the United States, mainly at the collegiate level, NFL management saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on the market share and potential media assets. For many, this partnership did not come as a shock because in 1970 NFL owners invested in a soccer league, which eventually grew into what is now Major League Soccer (MLS). Essentially, the MLS investment gave birth to the idea of creating this rugby league.
What’s even more intriguing about this is the NFL’s plan to use the empty professional stadiums not utilized during the offseason. More or less exploiting already NFL owned properties to pursue the growth of a professional league. While the NFL is by and large a mogul in the marketing department, this would be a crucial time for not only them, but management as well. The issue lies at two decisive parts, which could affect the new founded partnership. First off, management would have to ensure that the quality of play is legitimate for fans to watch. Secondly, they would have to garner television contracts with the likes of FOX and NBC so common people could watch. That being said, getting those contracts won’t be especially hard due to the NFL’s popular track record. However, by just showing rugby on the premium NFL Network channel management may lose potential fans.
All of the above issues can be resolved with carefully strategy planning. However, if proper steps to grow the sport are not taken than the NFL with ultimately lose the partnership and potentially the cost to its own market share. Surely then the question arises at wondering whether or not this is a step in the right direction for the NFL and Rugby. Should management have pursued this partnership instead of investing the time and money on developing a larger worldwide audience for the NFL? What other issues can you see with this partnership? In due time we will all find out if this panned out well for the NFL and rugby.
2 thoughts on “Rugby to the NFL”
I believe this is a step in the right direction for the NFL. As you mentioned, it allows them to utilize the otherwise empty stadiums. I do not think that trying to create a larger worldwide audience would work for the NFL. In order for something like that to work, it would have to go international meaning that other countries would need to have a team before it became popular. Rugby is booming right now and I think the NFL is seizing the opportunity and popularity of Rugby to increase their assets.
This was a very interesting article, often as an outsider, it can be overlooked on how a market leader can grow. I personally believe that putting the effort and resources that are being used for brining rugby to the USA, into their football brand globally would be a better strategic plan. On the surface, Rugby may seem like a great idea, filling otherwise empty stadiums with sporting events and tapping into the rugby community. As you mentioned the MLS also followed the same pattern, however I would not call that a huge success. During the early years of MLS, 1996 to the mid 2000’s, there was plenty of money lost by investors. One of the largest hurdles to economic stability for the MLS was the use of NFL stadiums. Even though Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, attendance was in the mid-10,000s or less, which does not portray a good product or contribute a large amount to the overhead needed in a stadium that holds 60,000+. It was not until the mid-2000’s when soccer specific stadiums were built with smaller capacities and less overhead that the MLS became stable and attractive to new investors. Currently there are only 3 of the 19 MLS teams (Seattle Sounders, D.C. United and New England revolution) still using NFL Stadiums. I hope that the NFL has learned from this and has plans in place to make sure the stadiums are a more viable home for Rugby, which I presume to be an even smaller initial audience than soccer was in the United States. The other issue that the NFL needs to be aware of is that since football and rugby have many similarities, the growth of rugby could cannibalize some of the current football fans and cause competition.