There was a great “wait, wait, back up!” moments during the taping of the RuggaMatrix America, when USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville floated the idea of someone in the USA buying London Wasps – the Aviva Premiership club currently up for sale.
Now, the idea in and of itself is intriguing. How better to get more Americans in pro rugby than to buy your own professional rugby team.
Flying to the UK isn’t any longer a flight than flying from Boston to Seattle, right?
It won’t happen, and it won’t happen because the Premiership doesn’t like the idea, and the Premiership would have to change some rules to allow so many non-British players on one team. It won’t happen because you’d have to find a buyer, and you’d … you get the idea; there are a lot of obstacles.
Still, it’s fun to think about, in part because some day it could happen. Some day, perhaps you’d have a team based in, say, Atlanta (got to make sure the weather is decent during the winter), and even a team Fort Lauderdale (the English clubs would love that!). Maybe someday.
But the whole subject got me to thinking (dangerous, I know) about pro rugby in the USA. Is it worth buying a European pro team versus starting a league on our own?
I’ve had a tough time finding out what these Premiership clubs are worth. Very few have been sold and the price tags have been kept quiet. Wasps is for sale without a stated price tag, but the current owners owe about $15.5 million on loans. Their costs last year were about $9.6 million, and they brought in about $6.5 million.
So the cost of the club would have to at least make a dent in the current ownership’s debt, the new owner would be on the hooker for player contracts, and other employees, and, likely, moving costs.
Someone got an extra $20 million handy?
If you do, think about this, instead:
A league of seven teams, each with rosters of 25 players and 5 coaches and staff. All paid $1,000 a week. All teaming play a 12-game season (home and away against everyone else).
With travel, pay, venue costs, you could run that league for about $3.5 million a year – that’s before any revenue comes in.
That’s still a lot of money, but it’s not as costly as buying Wasps would be. And it would help a lot more players. If we cut the size of the league to 5, and the amount paid to players to about $525 a week, you make more of a part-time, semi-pro league that costs about $1.1 million.
Still a lot of money, but not impossible.
But the entire topic perhaps spells out the fact that making rugby professional in the USA will cost a lot of money. Melville has put out ideas about entering a US team into the Heineken Cup or other European Competitions, or perhaps a Super Rugby team, both as expansion teams. It would certainly open rugby markets to the USA.
It all depends on money. Somebody has to see a possible business payoff by owning a pro rugby league, or a franchise in an international competition, and has to see that payoff worth investing millions of dollars.