Rugby union recently made one of its rare headlines in North America with the Head of SANZAR, Greg Peters, publicly voicing his views on the possibility of professional expansion into the US.
SANZAR is an alliance between South African, Australian and New Zealand rugby, and between them they play a role in running some of the southern hemisphere’s biggest rugby tournaments. Their involvement begs the question, if SANZAR is interested, what about the big hitters in the European leagues?
One league in particular, the RaboDirect Pro12, has taken a similar move, expanding away from it’s Celtic routes to include Italy.
Is a similar move for European leagues to include American teams as feasible?
The PRO12 currently consists of 12 teams in four nations, all of which have seen a significant rise in attendance and popularity in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to the league, which provides a stability of income and match line-ups to give teams the freedom to develop things like training methods and new stadiums to attract more people.
So what are the prospects of the RaboDirect Pro 12 making its way across the Atlantic? The US is a difficult case. The current teams are all committed to other domestic and regional leagues, meaning the Pro12 is largely used a proving ground for young talent while the senior members aim for the larger leagues and tournaments like the Six Nations and World Cup. While the US does have both young and veteran talent to draw upon, the lack of other major leagues means the team balance in a competition like the Pro12 would be vastly different compared to other teams in the roster.
Therefore, we would argue that if the US was to take part in European leagues like the Pro12 they would, at least initially, form more of a exhibition match style format. Again this comes back to the need for the US to professionalize its rugby scene first, before trying to play with the big boys.