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The Game Gladiators - Australian Rugby league News
globalrugbyleague - Thu, 31 Jan 2008 08:14:00 GMT
A headline in the Daily Telegraph last week read “Rusty’s Rabbits take on America”. The question is will America take on the Rabbits? The GRL Traitor investigates League’s latest attempt at venturing into deeper waters.

Florida. Home of the rich, the famous, and those world renowned hanging chads that left a nation of 300 million politically constipated for several weeks during the 2000 US presidential election.

Featuring a long list of key attractions including Disney World, the fictional background of the Golden Girls is a place where there really is no excuse for getting bored.

On Sunday the fourth biggest state in Yankee land made history all over again when it hosted a pre-season trial between South Sydney and the Leeds Rhinos at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.

There were two results.

Leeds came away with a two-point victory over an opposition that looked stiff in the first-half and red hot in the second, to the viewing benefit of those giving the game a try for the first time.

The other fascinating outcome was the crowd attendance with media outlets proclaiming that 12,000 turned up to the 9,300 seat stadium.

That’s over double the attendance of the Super 14’s trial between the Waratahs and Reds at Campbelltown Stadium on the same day.

It’s also a number that other NRL clubs have struggled to attract on a regular basis in recent years too.

So will Rugby League finally win over the ‘tiny, tiny, share of the American sporting consciousness’ that Peter Holmes a’ Court spoke of in the build-up to this historic clash?

Or has the greatest game of all in Australia, England, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea once again bitten off more then it can chew by targeting the most dangerous demographic of them all.

The disinterested.

The media in Sydney interpreted things under the guise of potential.

Crowe and Holmes a’ Court have found a potential niche according to Brad Walters in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“With 35 local businesses having climbed on board as sponsors of the Australia Day Challenge and the city, likely to subsidise a return match next year, it would seem foolish not to build on the foundations put in place this week,” Walters wrote.

“League must find new commercial opportunities and what better place to start than the US?”

The question is how should League ‘build on the foundations put in place?’

A post Super-Bowl annual clash is the answer I believe.

It means our code can get some space on the front section of sports pages at the end of the NFL season instead of being allocated to page four or five where readers may or may not get to before the end of breakfast.

The NRL season commences during the NFL off-season and that gives Rugby League a real opportunity to cater to fans who are being starved of their favourite hit-ups and takedowns.

League in a way can become like the A-League in Australia. A popular off-season alternative which helps fans of rival football codes derive similar satisfaction from their sporting senses.

The second thing Holmes a’ Court and Crowe need to do is to concentrate on building awareness of the game in one state for the next five-years.

In other words fight this battle on one-front only.

That’s not to say the annual clash - if it does eventuate – should just be held in Jacksonville.

By all means take future clashes to venues in Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Miami and Tampa Bay also follow their own separate NFL teams (the Dolphins and the Buccaneers), meaning there are plenty of other football fans in Florida who missed out on a good physical contest last Saturday.

With a cohesive approach to the US market, I can see South Sydney with the greatest international resource on their side (aka the Internet), creating club membership for US fans.

If the Rabbitohs airline friends get further involved commercially then those same US fans may one day get cheaper airfares to Australia when they tour down under to see a live game at Telstra Stadium.

The commercial possibilities are endless and Crowe and Holmes a’ Court know it.

Rebecca Wilson in the Daily Telegraph inferred the exercise as potentially worse then the ill-fated State of Origin game held in Long Beach, California back in 1987.

This was the clash former international Bob McCarthy labelled a ‘Mickey Mouse’ game.

Let’s look at Wilson’s essay on why rugby league won’t take off like a rocket being launched from Cape Canaveral.

“The Super Bowl is on next week, so it would be fair to say few Americans would have noticed the arrival of the rabbitohs in Florida.”

Wilson would have had some validity to her argument if the Jacksonville Jaguars actually GOT to the Superbowl. But like life, sport isn’t fair and that didn’t happen.

And anyway, the point of the exercise wasn’t about getting Americans to notice their arrival but more or less get them to the game.

That mission was accomplished though the journey has just begun.

Writing off the game even further like a cheque that bounces, the former Footy Show member, mentioned the lack of television exposure as another “fate accompli” for the mother of all experiments.

“Fox Sports and Channel 9 both declined the opportunity to cover the match because, surprise surprise, they didn't think there would be enough interest in it - not just in the US but anywhere”.

Yes, they declined to show the match LIVE.

They have not ruled out AIRING the game. In fact in Brad Walters report, it’s revealed that Channel Nine “is to show the game but has yet to decide on scheduling.”

But Rebecca, guess what. Most trial games (apart from the Charity Shield and the World Club Challenge) don’t get television coverage either.

New markets are never easy things to crack for any product. But they don’t get cracked by sitting around, hoping that oneday someone will tune in and start telling all their friends about it the next day.

It involves proactively investing time, money and lots of emotional and personel risk.

Wilson is right when she repeats past facts about League not travelling well.

However 21-years ago when State of Origin 4 went to Los Angeles and Peter Sterling struggled to run through the NSW Blues banner, the world was a smaller place and opportunities were more limited.

That was a time when we still had to wait up to two weeks to receive mail from loved one’s or friends overseas and when people in TV stations determined what we watched and when.

Today I can fire off an email to my Aunt in New Hampshire within minutes and I don’t need to write to free-to-air networks begging them to put the wrestling back on. I simply go to YouTube.

Thanks to the advent of the internet any business in any part of the world can have a local, national or international market. And Rugby League is no exception.

Which is why despite the fact that game wasn’t being televised live, it was being broadcast live on a Jacksonville radio station.

The people that best understand the new possibilities that changing media is offering will succeed.

Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a ‘Court take a bow. As for the 'it's too hard' critics, give yourself an uppercut. - Read More, Here