Arena Football Out, Rugby In

Matt ManleyContributor IAugust 4, 2009

With news the Arena Football League (AFL) will not be returning and filing for bankruptcy, it is time for rugby to strike.

Believe it or not, the AFL was a huge road block for professional rugby.

The game was based on our football, but also had its unique gimmick of being indoors. Combine that with the fact that their season was played during the NFL off-season; you had a substantial obstacle for rugby to find a niche.

With that obstacle removed, rugby needs to position itself to take spot.

There are probably a million reasons that contributed to the demise of the AFL. My feeling is the there is just too much football. Regardless of the gimmicks, the AFL was just more of the same.

If you consider that the American football fan can start watching football from late August till the Super Bowl in February, people are burned out. This is where rugby could be a refreshing change. Rugby can still tickle the football fans need for speed and physicality, but the game is different enough to not seem repetitive.

Rugby being a “new game” for Americans, it could be seen as a hard sell. However, if you look at the acceptance of cricket, there is a strong possibility that rugby could fill a niche.

Regardless of whether people, “know the rules” Americans are enjoying cricket as a spectacle. Given time, people will pick up on the rules of rugby.

Besides, is that an excuse for not trying to show people the game of rugby?

It seems to me that professional rugby in America has been mired by a lack of vision and too much excuse making. 

USA Rugby is the governing body for the sport in this country and has long been seen as a liability. I feel they are doing a better with the development of youth rugby, but something needs to change with who is controlling the higher levels of competition.

The college game and the eventual professional setup need to have separate governing bodies; organizations that are committed to the growth of the sport in that particular area.

USA Sevens, LLC to me is the model of that needs to be created for the future of rugby. USA Sevens is a business, which is what America is sport is built around. They run the leg of IRB Sevens Series and we have seen how successful that has become.

If money can be made, Americans will sniff it out. Rugby has a huge global market reach that is just waiting for American companies to catch on to. We simply need more private interest in rugby.

Going the way of the non-profit will always limit your level of success when it comes to sport. Sports simply don’t tug at the heart-strings like other non-profits. Sports are a business, period.

American rugby fans are not a sensitive bunch. We want to see results. If USA Rugby morphed into a corporation like the NFL or NBA, no one would care, just so long as we started to see results.

The likelihood of that happening is slim and none, so instead, someone else needs to step up and grab the reigns of professional rugby in America.