A Giant Awakening?
After the Pearl Harbour attack on 7th December 1941, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is frequently quoted as having said:
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
There is no reliable record of Yamamoto ever having said or written that line. The “quote” was included in two Hollywood movies, 1970’s Tora, Tora, Tora, and 2001’s Pearl Harbour. We know that Hollywood is famous for rewriting history to suit their market, often obscuring fact with a fiction they believe is more palatable or sellable.
Whether Yamamoto actually said the words will forever be shrouded in the mists of history, but the truth in that sentiment is emblazoned in history. The Sleeping Giant awoke, and he was more than a little miffed at the events of that dreadful Sunday morning in December.
Leaving the rest of that story to history buffs, let’s talk rugby.
The older rugby nations of the world have long been watching, and nurturing the development of the game in countries outside of the established order. They have seen rugby start to grow in popularity in countries like Japan, Canada, Georgia, Romania, even in soccer-mad Brazil and Uruguay. This is in line with World Rugby’s dedication to spreading the game around the world.
The inclusion of the Sevens format of the game in the Olympics has triggered a tsunami of interest across the world. Countries such as Afghanistan, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Uruguay and South Korea are playing the game.
The Sevens format is best suited for younger, super-fit, lightning fast players with exceptional skill sets. Not all of us are built that way. Some are born to prop up the scrum, others are loping giants who lock the scrum and tower in the lineouts. Yet others are too slow, too light, or have limited ball skills.
But this Sevens lark has triggered an interest in the game, and the leftovers and left-outs of the quicker format of the game are moving towards the somewhat slower, more physical version of the game. The one we call Rugby Union. Fifteens for short.
And that is where we are seeing all kinds of interest in countries that previously eschewed the game of rugby union.
And this is where a Sleeping Giant has started to stir from his slumbers.
Rugby is not new to the USA.
The U.S. won the gold medal in rugby at the 1920 Olympics and again at the 1924 Olympics, but rugby collapsed in the country after the 1924 Olympics (except in certain hotbeds of Rugby such as San Francisco, St. Louis and New York, which saw continuous competition). Rugby did not re-emerge in the US until its renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s. The United States of America Rugby Football Union (now known as USA Rugby) was formed in 1975.
Rugby has traditionally been a game that is played at the universities of the USA. At the current time there are over 1000 universities and colleges that play rugby. Some 32 000 college students are registered as rugby players.
Things are changing. Slowly, but surely, rugby is spreading its tentacles across the USA. School aged group rugby is played from Texas down south right up to the northern areas of Washington State in the opposite corner of that huge country. Clubs are starting up all over the place. Small now, but remember that thing about acorns and oaks!
The growth of rugby has not been easy. The game has to face off against some very big and deeply rooted competition. American Football runs deep in the veins of most Americans; Baseball, Ice Hockey, Basketball.. they are all major sports that attract and entertain the fans with huge events and massive media coverage.
Big money is thrown at the established sports in the USA, with lesser sports, such as rugby, receiving little or no media attention, and thus no sponsorship attention either.
Except that Sevens Rugby has tickled corporate America’s interest! And that interest is the best news ever for rugby as a sport.
The Sleeping Giant is stirring!
The Next Big Step!
The USA has a major professional rugby league!
Major League Rugby has kicked off with the first fixtures having been played just this last weekend!
Seven well-funded teams in seven cities across the country have formed a new, North American professional rugby organization, and it all kicked off on the weekend.
This is not the first attempt at a professional rugby league in the USA. MLR represents the third attempt to professionalize rugby fifteens in the USA. The most recent, PRO Rugby, mounted a five-city league (San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Dayton, Ohio), and lasted just one year.
MLR kicks off with seven teams:
- Austin (TX) Elite
- NOLA Gold (New Orleans)
- Utah Warriors
- Glendale Raptors
- San Diego Legion
- Houston Saber Cats
- Seattle Seawolves
The League will expand in 2019, with additional teams from Vancouver and New York City, and then with possible entries coming from Boston and Washington, DC.
Major League Rugby spans three months from April through June. The regular season of ten weeks is followed by a post-season for the top four teams consisting of two semi-final matches and the Championship Game to determine the season’s MLR champion team.
South Africans will recognise Todd Clever, probably the most recognized name and face in USA Rugby. Having previously played for the Lions in Super Rugby, he has spent time playing in Europe and has returned to the US to participate in the MLR. He is playing for the Austin Elite.
There can be no doubt that MLR will generate interest amongst local fans in their host cities. This is a given, but for the League, and Rugby, to succeed it needs to generate interest across the wider USA. This requires the buy-in of the media, especially the national media. Non-rugby people need to see the game, and have their interest piqued.
Critically, MLR has secured television coverage via “The Game of the Week” from CBSSN, and 17-scheduled regional airings from Cox/AT&T Sports.
In the USA sport is big business. Whether it is football, or baseball, basketball or hockey, tennis or golf, it is all about the product and its long term profitability. If the corporates do not buy in, and the teams cannot sustain themselves, the sport, any sport, will wither on the vine.
One can expect MLR rugby to have growth pains. It will take time, a couple of years at least, before we will know whether the League has reached a level of economic sustainability. The League has to attract new fans, new viewers, new people to the game. And they need to be attracted on a frequent basis.
Their interest has to be sustained, and that will require a quality offering – good, skilful and exciting rugby. (Super Rugby take note!)
If the fans flock to the games, the sport of rugby will thrive, and that Sleeping Giant will stir from its long long slumber, and possibly again become the force it was at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics.
That would be good for rugby across the entire world.
Everyone in the World rugby community wishes the USA’s Major League Rugby initiative the very best.
Find Out More: https://www.usmlr.com.
South African born Hanco Germishuys was named the Man Of the Match for the Austin Elite after last weekend’s game against the Glendale Raptors. He scored a superb try in this game.