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.