Ex-All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder in action for Rugby New York in their Eastern Conference semi-final June 3 against the New England Free Jacks. Photo/Getty Images
While it’s fair to say its team members are far from well-known in the United States, Rugby United New York made the final of the American equivalent of Super Rugby.
And the inhabitants are
learn a little more about the game in the preparation.
“If you could combine football with ice hockey, this is what rugby would look like,” Rugby New York CEO Ric Salizzo explained to an ABC 7 reporter during a recent TV news profile. (click on the tweet below to see the clip).
Field trip: having fun with Rugby New York https://t.co/PRK4uVJw5V
— Chris Keall (@ChrisKeall) June 22, 2022
Rugby United New York – the team owned by Kiwi Murray Bolton – have reached the final of the US equivalent of Super Rugby.
The team will face the Seattle Seawolves in the Major League Rugby (MLR) final on Saturday (Sunday NZT) at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
The venue – usually home to Major League Soccer team Red Bull New York – has a capacity of 25,000 – but Bolton cannot be accused of hyping the game too much.
“We could have 3,000 to 5,000 people,” he told the Herald from Mexico, where he has been in exile from New Zealand since New Years (Bolton was a major driver of the successful legal challenge against the MIQ).
Winning the championship will help, but it’s long.
The wealthy listener says it may take 20 years for rugby to gain traction in the United States, and there’s no certainty it ever will.
And Bolton is under no illusions. Rugby New York will soon be a source of money.
“It’s far from making money,” he says. He estimates that he will have to pay between 20 and 25 million dollars before seeing a return.
If that doesn’t pump you, we don’t know what will…
—Rugby New York (@rugbynewyork) June 11, 2022
In Bolton’s universe, New York Rugby looks less like transaction services company Xplor – in which he has a stake of around half a billion – and more akin to his quixotic ventures like his ongoing multi-year offering to revive the Kamo fauna. park created by “Lion Man” Craig Busch. (Some would also put Bolton’s time as part-owner of the Auckland Blues on this list.)
Yet things are moving in top-level American rugby, where it is only in its infancy in terms of domestic competition (MLR had only lasted two seasons before being decimated by Covid. Bolton invested in New York Rugby after the end of the competition). canceled in 2020, then taken full control in early 2021).
Ex-pat Ben Young – who now sits on the team’s board – says he went to his first rugby game in New York with a group of other Kiwis.
“Expats and local clubs were the initial audience. But now it’s growing,” he says.
MLR started in 2018 with seven teams. Today, there are 13 in the United States and Canada, and locally the numbers have grown at a rapid rate over the past few years. There are now around 125,000 registered players across 2,500 clubs, colleges and sevens.
“Rugby is a pre-soccer sport in the United States and actually has a lot of players, they just haven’t all been connected domestically before,” Young says.
Young – who co-founded advertising agency Young & Shand before moving from Auckland to New York last decade, where he runs content analytics company Nudge and is director of Parrot Analytics (which provides content rankings streaming age and new content commentary for clients such as Disney+ and HBO Max) – draws on his technology and marketing skills as director of Rugby New York.
“It’s like a startup. It’s a content and media company, which needs to grow its fans and build partnerships. Our goal is to make rugby world class, here in the United States.”
There are a few major developments that could help.
Bolton – who has dealt with Silverlake and visited its headquarters, but not the sporting side of its operation – says the US venture capital firm will be good for NZ Rugby. It will be a logical step for Silverlake to encourage the All Blacks to return to the United States for more exhibition games as he looks to build the team’s brand equity which will help raise the profile of rugby. .
And on May 12, the United States was announced as the hosts of the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Young hopes it will provide a boost similar to that enjoyed by Major League Soccer after the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994.
“The United States has seen what’s happened with MLS and the effect of the World Cup, so I think it will help build awareness and trust in the wider support for rugby,” Young said.
The tech entrepreneur is far from the only New York Rugby Kiwi.
The franchise’s managing director is the aforementioned Salizzo – the former NZ Rugby PR man best known for his stint as a SportsCafe producer and presenter.
There is one Kiwi shirt sponsor: Mainfreight (which serves the US market).
The coaching staff is led by Marty Veale, who played for North Harbor and Canterbury in the NFC in the 2000s.
And on the pitch, former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder signed for New York Rugby in May, joining former AB Waisake Naholo and Andy Ellis. While the marquee signings, all are in their 30s – and likely won’t see a payday at France or Japan level.
A New York Times report stated that the average RUNY player was paid between $20,000 and $35,000 ($31,000 to $54,000).
Foreign players can earn more, though, like Major League Soccer, it’s a retirement gig.
However, MLS is focusing much more on homegrown talent these days. Inter Miami, co-owned by David Beckham, was recently valued at US$600-650 million (a tidy sum, though it always changes next to the top teams in the NFL, MLB and NBA), and Apple recently paid
$2.5 billion for a 10-year MLS streaming rights deal. Bolton and co will hope Major League Rugby follows a similar trajectory.
The New York-Seattle Seawolves Rugby Final will air on Fox Sports in the US and stream for free worldwide on the MRL-run Global Rugby Network (where you can also catch a replay of the Rugby Eastern Conference Final New York vs. New England Free Jacks).
Kick-off is 12pm Saturday (4am Sunday NZT).