Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rugby & Lumberjacks

Let’s stop talking to each other and talk to the rest of America.

I know all the rugby web sites, read all the news, find what local pub has a game on satellite. I have all sorts of ways to scratch my rugby itch. I have a closet full of jerseys and a shelf full of videos and on any given weekend can find a local club game to attend. If I want rugby I can find it.
This being said, every time I mention my addiction to anyone else they usually follow up with a statement something like, “Hey I’ve seen rugby before. Why do they play on a round field?”

Our numbers are growing. The game is growing world wide while with communication technology, the world is shrinking. Yet with all this, unless you have actually attended a game, which means you know a rugger who has taken your hand and brought you along, Americans have no idea what rugby is.
Yes, we Yanks are busy with baseball, basketball, hockey, of course our rugby substitute football, and yes major league soccer. On the soccer note, yes we Americans don’t like to follow the rest of the world in our sporting passions, so no the fact that the rugby world cup is the 3rd most watched sporting event in the world shouldn’t signal something is wrong. Should the fact that the only remaining world power is sub 3rd world when it comes to international rugby competitiveness be an issue? After all, we aren’t powers in men’s field hockey or handball either. So what is this all about?

I once tried to get my employer to sponsor the Eagles. I obviously failed. I was unable to convince the powers that be that there would be a sufficient return on their investment. Budgets and schedules were talked about, branding, world wide influence, blah, blah, blah… What the real issue came down to was that the only people within the company, who were familiar with rugby, were former players. There were those who knew of rugby culture, but nothing of the game. No one had ever seen the game. I could not get money because I was forced to spend too much time explaining what the game was. That is our problem.

Former administrators have pointed to the lack of returned phone calls. There is of course the Catch-22 that how do you get exposure without money when of course it takes money to get exposure. It makes sense, and I have experienced the challenge and battle involved in trying to fund USA Rugby. With this understanding I now cry B.S. to those saying we have done the best we can.

Americans watch TV. They will watch anything on TV. It is possible to get anything on TV.
Let us start with sports dedicated channels. I have personally seen:
High School basketball, NCAA soccer, NCAA hockey, NCAA Lacrosse, Water Polo, Billiards, poker, curling, dog shows, lumber jack contests, world’s strongest man, Sumo wrestling, triathlons, cross country skiing, gymnastics, ice skating, all on either ESPN or ESPN 2.
Am I to believe that all of these are seen as greater revenue or viewer ship generators than rugby? I spent my summers growing up in the Pacific Northwest and have never met an actual lumberjack, yet I can watch their competitions on great time slots on BASIC CABLE. How many Sumo wrestlers are there in the USA? I have no idea but I watched them on a Saturday afternoon in Madison Square Gardens from my living room. That’s sports cable, now for network television.

Of course broadcast TV is shooting high, but Big Brother has been on for how many seasons? NASCAR and Wrestling blow their numbers and goals away year after year. People line up around the block to see people pretend to wrestle and shout melodramatically at each other. I’m sure most all Americans know who Hulk Hogan is but have never heard of Jonah Lomu. I’m sure this is not the case the world over.
Americans love things that are rough, rowdy, competitive, and interesting. Now I don’t have the answers as to why Rugby can’t break into American broadcast awareness, but then again that isn’t my job. Maybe we should hire a lumberjack, Vince McMahan, or a college water polo player as the new USA Rugby CEO because apparently they do have the answer. We should be on TV.

Not only should we be on TV but the Eagles should win. We have athletes. The present team has players skilled enough to play pro in other countries; it’s not a lack of athletic ability. It must be the money. We have made great strides in the quality and numbers in both high school and college rugby, but past that, world class athletes must jump ship or jump the pond. This is no knock on the super league but NYAC is not on par with London Wasps or the Crusaders. As a result, our National team is the equivalent of my flag football team playing the Chicago Bears. Tana Umaga does not push a pencil 9-5 and then captain world champs twice a week plus weekends. That is our problem. This will continue to be our problem till we figure out how to get some cash and some exposure. Football is not the problem. Culture is not the problem. Lack of athletes is not the problem. The problem is, I have to seek out web casts and special cable packages to possibly catch a glimpse of a great sport, while at any given time I can stumble upon lumberjacks and Sumos.

I know the answer is out there. I’m sure it isn’t too far away. Maybe a reality show where average Joes are given the opportunity to play in a world class game for the promise of a paycheck. Why not, we already have plenty of guys who are willing to pay their own way to do this for free!

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