It keeps happening – someone issues a press release or matriculates a rumor of a professional league or tournament starting, and that rumor snowballs. Inevitably, the network of American rugby blogs picks up on it and gives it credence, at least in the eyes of some rugby fans. And, as is the rule, that competition never gets off the ground.
The latest of these rumors, a game to be staged between an American barbarian side and the London Irish at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. and called the Independence Cup, was really perpetuated by overseas reports that were wildly exaggerated and tinkered with facts. Now, just weeks after the plan came to light, the game is already canceled.
The plan was to use, primarily, NFL wannabes and a sprinkling of international talent to compete against a well-established professional club. Organizers were said to want to tap into the pride of Irish heritage in the Boston and New England area to draw 30,000 fans to an NFL stadium in an effort to attract investors for a professional league starting as early as 2014.
Forbes even picked up on this seemingly ridiculous bit of ‘news’, perpetuating hullabaloo over something that was predictably destined to be the topic of a column like this.
So you’re going to create a team of mostly rugby rookies, select them through a NFL-like combine, teach them the game in a month and a half, get sponsors, market and sell tickets to more people than have ever watched a single 15s match in the United States (by about 10,000 by the way), and you’re going to do it all in less than four months? Mmkay.
As a stark contrast, the USA Sevens employs a fully professional staff year-round to pull off the Las Vegas stop on the IRB 7s World Series and the Las Vegas Invitational. 12 months the staff works to put butts in seats and iron out the behind-the-scenes kinks, and they’ve been doing it for years. But this new, unknown, untested group is going to put 30,000 people in a stadium in less than four months?
Heck, take the Grand Prix. This team has been working practically since 2005, when Bill Tatham, Jr. purchased rights from USA Rugby, on a professional competition. After eight years, the Grand Prix still says a competition is coming. So a group with a background in professional sports hasn’t been able to get a competition off the ground after eight years, but this new group is going to do it in less than four months?
The most absurd part of this particular tale is that multiple outlets reported that the NFL had somehow partnered with the group behind the competition. That was never true. It was never even claimed by the group behind the competition – what was claimed was that the NFL Network would broadcast the game. That’s all. The NFL wasn’t marketing the game, wasn’t helping sell tickets, wasn’t helping find talent for the American team. Its network was simply willing to air the game.
This marks the second time the NFL Network has been listed as the broadcaster for an American rugby event that never was. The Grand Prix actually got the NFL to run a press release on its site saying its network was going to carry the competition. This Independence Cup thing? Nope, no press release from the NFL.
So overseas, and American, publications inaccurately reported a partnership. This is really quite funny, if you have paid much attention to how the overseas media plays it fast and loose when referencing American football.
When Miles Craigwell was on the US Sevens team, announcers referred to him as an ex-NFL star. The reality is Craigwell never played a down of football in an NFL game. I’ve heard announcers claim Zack Test was an Oakland Raider. That never even came close to happening. Test was a walk-on at the University of Oregon, and a quick Google search yields no evidence that he ever even caught a pass for the Ducks. Carlin Isles is supposedly a gridiron convert. I guess you could say that – he played in high school and a little bit at DII Ashland University – but he was years removed from football when he picked up rugby, and the claim one report made that he could probably be in the NFL if he wanted to, most NFL observers would argue, was patently false.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this latest pro rugby ordeal – don’t believe it until you see it, and get your news about American rugby from America, if you want it to be accurate.
There’s a reason we at RUGBYMag don’t pretend to be world rugby experts or write previews of Heineken Cup matches – we’re not dialed into those competitions on a regular basis. We watch as fans, sure, and we pay attention to Americans playing overseas, but we’re not in the business of pretending to know something we don’t.
And there’s a reason we at RUGBYMag didn’t just paraphrase one of the Independence Cup reports and pass it off as news, because we knew it wasn’t.
I want to see a professional rugby league or circuit or competition in the United States as bad as anyone, but being the boy who cried 'NFL Network' isn't a good way to go about accomplishing the goal. When it happens, and it will, it will be organically. It will be off the backs of test matches like Saturday's selling out MLS stadiums on a regular basis and on the success of the USA Sevens and the Collegiate Rugby Championship on television. It won't be because some rich guy, or seemingly rich guy, puts out an incredible press release three months, or maybe even eight years, before the competition is supposed to kick off.