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In the 1967 film classic "The Graduate," the hero, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), received one word of business advice from a family friend, Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke). That suggestion was "Plastics."
"There's a great future in plastics," McGuire continued.
And, who knows, had Ben invested in plastics 51-years ago, he might today be a millionaire many times over. The historical truth was that plastics then was a promising commercial opportunity.
Currently in the USA, the present-day one word with a dubious business prospect is "Rugby." Over the past few years, investors and entrepreneurs have spent millions of dollars to fund new rugby-oriented businesses - mostly all related to the fifteens' game - with nothing but deficits to show for their well-intentioned efforts.
Gone is the five-team PRO Rugby league that crashed after one year of play, generating significant, seven-figure losses.
Rugby International Marketing (RIM) founded in 2015 with an investment of $7.5 million, supposed it would become "...the for-profit commercial arm of USA Rugby, tasked with monetizing the federation's commercial rights and developing new revenue streams to fund the growth of the game in America."
Sounded then like a great business idea. But in 2018, this joint USA Rugby/British organizations consortium stands on the precipice of failure, proffering a last minute fire sale of reduced value and speculative assets.
A core RIM initiative created The Rugby Channel on the assumption the USA rugby fan base wanted television to air/stream 225 live rugby matches annually from a mix of international and local games, including Test matches. At its apogee, the paid for subscription rate totaled 11,600, much of that revenue was substantially discounted to generate a viewing base. It has already lost 600 subscribers and, without an influx of new capital, may not continue. The weekly costs were prohibitively expensive to send production crews around the US.
As for scheduling Test Matches in the US against top ranked international fifteens or European professional rugby team games, the commercial results have been modest and mixed. Recent data follow:
Team versus Team Venue Date Attendance
Eagles Italy Houston 2012 15,000
Eagles Ireland Houston 2013 15,000
Eagles Maoris Philadelphia* 2013 18,000
Eagles All Blacks Chicago** 2014 60,000
Eagles Scotland Houston 2014 15,000
Eagles Australia Chicago** 2015 15,000
Ireland All Blacks Chicago** 2016 62,000
Eagles Maoris Chicago*** 2016 20,000
Saracens Lon.Irish Philadelphia* 2016 15,000
Eagles Ireland RedBull, NJ 2017 20,000
Saracens Newcastle Philadelphia* 2017 6,000
Wales South Africa DC 2018
(Wales-South Africa is scheduled for Saturday, June 2 at RFK Stadium. A RIM property.)
* = The venue is Talen Energy Stadium where the Penn Mutual College Rugby Championship is played. ** = Soldier Field. *** = Toyota Park Stadium.
The findings seem clear: bring over the marquee All Blacks, the best fifteen in the world, and fill up a big stadium. Notice that when Australia played the Eagles in Chicago, also at Soldier Field, the attendance dropped 75-percent from the prior All Blacks Test. When the Eagles played the second tier Maoris from New Zealand, the attendance averaged around 19,000.
Finally, the Eagles seem to draw from 15,000 to 20,000 fans depending upon the city and opposition, not counting Kiwi opponents. Historically, the Eagles attract significantly fewer paid attendance in Tests against Canada, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Georgia, Romania, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina A. These Tests are played in smaller venues and lower rental fees.
In net, to-date, many moneymaking models for capitalizing on rugby growth in the USA have not proved profitable.
(In Part II, on Monday, May 8, Rugby Today will examine the reasons why.)