Premiership Rugby thought that it had finally cracked the US market with its three-year deal to play one London Irish game a season somewhere in the States. Then the Irish went and got themselves relegated, complicating the picture and leaving a gap in the market that had to be filled before Super Rugby or the Pro12 jumped in for their slice of the American pie.
That is why the news that the league (as opposed to an individual team) has committed to play one game per season in American in each of the next four years is such a big deal. That the first of those games will feature Saracens (the double European champions) and Newcastle (the first Premiership winners) shows that the league – through a partnership with AEG Rugby – is really getting behind this idea.
In choosing Philadelphia as the beginning point for this rebrand USA Rugby and Premiership Rugby have made a very wise decision. The City of Brotherly Love has a proud rugby history and Talen Energy Stadium (home of the Philadelphia Union of the MLS) has already hosted US rugby internationals. In addition, the city comes alive each year for the Collegiate Rugby Championship sevens each June, an event that you wouldn’t expect to be as big as it is if you don’t understand the American love for college sports.
The Saracens/London Irish match in March 2016 did ok, but it only half filled the 25,000 seat Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. For a sport looking to grow and expand like rugby is in the USA, this is just a bad look. Games being played in half empty stadiums is exactly why the MLS has been investing in soccer-specific stadiums because the image is everything in sports today.
There is also an interesting marketing opportunity here for the two teams involved, especially Newcastle. There are many American rugby fans who love the game as opposed to having long standing club affiliation with teams from abroad. If Newcastle plays this right then they have the opportunity to pick up a new legion of fans overnight. The key will be to play to the similar histories of the two cities, as both are located in the north-east of their respective nations and have proud industrial and seafaring pasts.
Talen Energy Arena seats 18,500 for soccer games, so a capacity of roughly the same would be expected for rugby. While AEG would love for this to sell out, an attendance of 15,000 or so would leave everybody happy. The September 16 date should guarantee good weather and give Philadelphia another chance to put itself on the map as one of the go to cities in the US when it comes to international sport.
Do you think that Philadelphia is a good location for this match? Let us know in the comments below.