How the NRFL plans to take rugby to mainstream America

The latest attempt to bring the sport of rugby union to the American masses certainly isn’t short on ambition.

The National Rugby Football League, which is at this stage slated for a spring 2022 kickoff, is pledging to bring a rugby experience to the United States the likes of which Americans have never seen, one that draws on the masses’ love of the NFL and hopes to convert fans to the world’s most played contact-tackle sport.

“We have never wavered from what we wanted to do,” NRFL commissioner Mike Clements told ESPN from the fledgling league’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “And our mission has always been to take rugby to greater America by utilizing everything that we have available to us, from outstanding athletes to infrastructure, stadia and fans that have a contact-tackle sport background and are basically addicted to it and also then looking at the stakeholders and so forth. We’ve never wavered from that.

“And when you travel the path, I would say that some people look at what we’re doing with inspiration, some people look at what we’re doing with intimidation, but we remain steadfast on our course to bring [rugby] to the top property that it truly can be and richly deserves to be.”

Clements looks at rugby and sees a miscarriage of sporting justice.

How can a sport that boasts the third-biggest global event on the planet — behind only the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup — in the Rugby World Cup and is played in more than 120 countries not have any teams or franchises included in Forbes’ Top 50 most valuable sports entities, particularly when more than half of those are from another contact-tackle sport, the NFL?

“One of our points that we always like to raise is the Forbes ranking of top sport properties. Currently rugby is not in there, and there is no excuse for it,” Clements said.

“And so that when we see that over half of the top 50 most valuable sport franchises are coming out of the contact-tackle sport of American football of NFL, once the fans see this, once it’s presented in that incredibly high-fashion way that we can do here in America, we feel that that will put rugby rightfully where it deserves to be.

“And what that will do will also raise the water table for the sport globally.”

The NRFL’s blueprint is to supercharge rugby by combining the game’s best athletes — think two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett, or current England captain Owen Farrell — and then try to convert some American football athletes to the game as well.

Signing some of rugby’s existing global superstars won’t be without its challenges, but the NRFL’s managing director, Steve Ryan, sees a blueprint in the Indian Premier League, the competition that changed cricket forever.

“From an international perspective, we’re essentially creating the IPL of rugby,” Ryan told ESPN. “Our vision is to put one of the best products on the pitch, and when you compare rugby to soccer or American football, all the…

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Read More: How the NRFL plans to take rugby to mainstream America 2020-05-21 21:00:48

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