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Saracens to face Newcastle in Philadelphia under four-year US deal

Promotional partner for new Premiership US deal heralds regular-season game featuring the Manchester United of rugby as building block for rugby in America

Premiership Rugby announced on Wednesday a new four-year deal to stage regular-season games in the US, starting, as previously reported in the Guardian, with Saracens the Manchester United of rugby against Newcastle in Philadelphia on 16 September.

The game, which will be played out of international rugby windows but which will land on an NFL and college football weekend, is a home fixture for Newcastle.

In a statement on the clubs website, managing director Mick Hogan heralded an exciting opportunity which enables us to further invest in our squad and in the stadium facilities at Kingston Park, but added: We do appreciate some of our supporters will be disappointed by one of our regular home games being moved. We will be in touch with season-ticket members and corporate sponsors directly to inform them of our compensatory offers.

Dan Lyle, the former USA, Bath and Leicester No8 who is now director of AEG Rugby, the agency promoting the game in the US, told the Guardian that if there was a Manchester United of pro rugby Saracens would be that. Double European champions, maybe treble league champions depending on a tough game at Exeter this weekend.

They also have two American players who are well known to the rugby community here, Chris Wyles and Titi Lamositele. They have six Lions, copious amounts of England internationals and others including a world player of the year in Schalk Burger.

Lyle added: I also like Newcastle in so many ways. I think Newcastle and Philadelphia as sports cities are similar, theyre north-eastern, places with the sea trade and the industrial past, and in rugby Newcastle were the first Premiership champions and they also have a USA player, Nick Civetta.

The game will be played at the Talen Energy Stadium, the home of the Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer team which has staged US rugby internationals and is host to the Collegiate Rugby Championship sevens tournament each June.

In March 2016, Premiership Rugby brought Saracens and London Irish to play at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. That game, with US promotion handled by TLA and an official attendance of 14,811, was meant to be the first of three Irish home fixtures, only for their relegation from the Premiership to complicate the picture. The deal with AEG replaces that agreement.

TLA have done very well in the Rugby Weekend international games [including Ireland v New Zealand in Chicago last November] and are doing the USA v Ireland game at Red Bull [on 10 June], said Lyle. Theyre focusing on the Test level this is a chance from Premiership Rugby to stage a game consistently for four years, parallel with the NBC broadcast deal that they have.

Premiership games, with analysis from Lyle and the New York-born England and Lions prop Alex Corbisiero, have been shown live and on delay by NBC Sports this season.

Internationally, interest in US rugby as a source of players and supporters remains high. As with the 2016 US fixture, this years Premiership game will not clash with the sanctioning agreement for domestic club rugby held by Doug Schoninger, the New York businessman behind PRO Rugby, the five-team US league that completed its first season last July but has not returned to the field. Premiership Rugbys announcement also comes amidst reports of the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian Pro12 nearing completion on plans to place a team in Houston.

Titi
Titi Lamositele (second from right), a highly regarded American prop, celebrates Saracens European Champions Cup victory last weekend. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Lyle said AEG were committed to developing American rugby. Part of the subtext of this deal, he said, is us working with Premiership Rugby and the franchises to build the USA Rugby strategic plan, to begin to roll that out around that game and really try to execute it once we hit the end of this year.

In a statement Dan Payne, chief executive of USA Rugby, said he anticipated a tremendous display of our great game that will fuel our growth plan domestically; a plan for growth in participation, overall awareness, national broadcast, and commercially. This event ticks each of those very important boxes.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty thanked the city of Philadelphia for its full commitment to the success of the match.

Lyle added: Ive always said this to anybody who wants to come into America: Super Rugby, Pro12, whoever it is, youve got to get your content ready, your merchandise, your community work in the markets you want to be part of. When youre defining America you dont say, Hey Im going to go into USA Rugby and think thats it, its one market. Youre really going after many markets.

The six major markets in America are 100 million people alone and of course the [NBC] broadcasts do hit many markets, while with the [September] game were on the ground together.

Both sides of the Atlantic need that. Premiership Rugby want to broaden their broadcast rights, broaden their audience platform, look at American athletes their stated objectives. But they also want to help grow the American game, help American rugby become a top-tier country because thats beneficial for everybody.

Im really most proud that this is a partnership deal, with Premiership Rugby, NBC and USA Rugby working together to grow the game in the States. Thats not always been the case.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/may/17/saracens-newcastle-philadelphia-premiership-rugby

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