Thursday 27 July 2017

Here is why adding an American team to the Guinness Pro12 would be a very bad idea

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Desperate times call for desperate measures but adding an American franchise to the Pro12 is too ambitious and could end up doing more harm than good.

IRFU CEO Philip Browne revealed after the union's AGM last week that expanding the Pro12 is a possibility, with the USA being looked at as one possible option.

Previously, the league's CEO Martin Anayi spoke about the possibility of adding a London franchise and interestingly, he has previously worked in the US so he would be familiar with the market.

The potential upside is, of course, huge. The USA is the biggest media market in the world, so if a successful rugby team could be transplanted there and adopted by American sports fans, the potential growth could be enormous.

That appears to be driving this proposal because when you look at the challenges, they appear to far outweigh the remote prospect of this working out.

The Pro12's TV revenue is paltry compared to the Aviva Premiership and Top 14's - €14m vs €51m and €97m. America could be a way of bridging that gap.

However, rugby is still in its infancy in America. Ex-England international Nigel Melville has done great work as the USA Rugby CEO, making the national team more competitive, which has in turn lead to America starting its first professional rugby league.

PRO Rugby has five teams and is set to expand further in 2017. It would be foolish to expand the Pro12 in America before seeing how the country takes to their existing league.

The American sports market is very competitive and extremely saturated - Premier League football is only now being embraced by the mainstream.

In order to make an impression on fans and generate TV revenue, the team would need to be good.

But how would the proposed team be competitive? Where would the coaches and players come from?

Browne seemed confidant that the Pro12 nations could assist in setting up a franchise but were the new team to go the way of every single other expansion side - the Italian Pro12 outfits and the Japanese and Argentine Super Rugby teams - then it is hard to see American fans embracing them.

Even the Jaguares, with a host of quality Argentine internationals, have struggled to make an impact in an admittedly strong Super Rugby league.

And what of the travel costs? The IRFU have already spoken openly about the provinces financial struggles. Adding one transatlantic trip per province per season would be very pricey and an unnecessary addition to an already taxing schedule.

The prospect of tapping into America's massive TV market is undoubtedly enticing, but it is equally fanciful. Rugby is one sport that has never really caught on in America, and prematurely adding a Stateside team could dilute the quality of a struggling league even further.

There are enough uncompetitive teams in the Pro12 as it is and until professional rugby in America proves to be a sustainable entity, adding a US side isn't an option worth exploring.

Online Editors

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport