2nd March 2018, 14:35 | steve_mascord

WE GOT ISSUES: Selling Rugby League to the US

WE GOT ISSUES: Selling Rugby League to the US

By Steve Mascord

THE guys involved in running the England-New Zealand Test in Denver over the next three years haven’t said much to the rugby league public.

Because that’s not who they’re trying to impress.

Jason Moore is an Australian who took Major League Baseball to the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2014. His associate is New Yorker John Paul Basile, former vice president in charge of international development at the NBA.

They had to engage the rugby league world to get two teams to play at Sports Authority Field – better known as Mile High.

It seemed to be a pretty hairy ride with the objections of NRL clubs causing many of us to doubt if the match on June 23 between England and New Zealand would go ahead.

Now that it has been confirmed by the RFL and NZRL, things seem pretty straight-forward for those of us in rugby league land. It has been reported in Australia that the NRL will fine clubs who refuse to release players.

But for Moore and Basile, the real battle is just starting. Trying to convince people in the rugby league heartlands that the game is a good idea was a mere entrée – sorry, appetizer – for them.

Now they have to convince America.

There are a few things about their approach which is not widely understood in Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

The first is the significance of the venue. Basile has been courting stadiums since the beginning. Outside the NFL season, these enorma-domes lay dormant. They are looking for tenants and willing to offer favourable terms.

The venue itself and the Denver Broncos PR executives are promoting this event. His model is very much to get the venues and those venues' major tenants to do the heavy lifting for the RLWC 2025 team.

Under that strategy, there is no point going to a city or a stadium where they don't intend to play a World Cup game and/or base a franchise in their proposed domestic league.

Using Sports Authority Field is not about this game in June. It’s about building a relationship with the venue that will hopefully carry through to those ends.

It’s also about placing a line in the sand. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is holds 18,000 people, Sport Authority Field takes 76,000. For once, rugby league is aiming higher than rugby union – no pun intended. 

They want a point of difference. The official event Twitter account even corrected Mile High for calling it a “rugby” game. While British fans rightly claim equal ownership of the word, clearly RLWC 2025 have made a marketing decision not to ride the other game’s coat-tails.

Which brings us to another important distinction: they aren’t chasing expats. Contrary to popular opinion (including mine until yesterday), they aren’t chasing existing rugby fans even though Denver is the sport’s US capital.

“No pads. No blocking. Six Downs” says the advert for the “rugby league football challenge”. “Football”. They are going for NFL fans – unashamedly.

We are not in Denver because some people there people know who Johnny Wilkinson and Dan Carter are. We're there chasing the hundreds of thousands who know John Elway.

The local NFL team is going to promote us as one of their own to a fanatical sports market. We have three years to make it work.

… and then five to repeat it all over North America – as many as 30 times.