The head of USA Rugby has admitted his organisation would be “very interested” in getting an American franchise into the Guinness Pro12.
The cross-border league currently includes teams from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy but Irish RFU chief Philip Browne said last week that expanding into the American market could be part of a radical plan to increase revenues in the bid to compete with the English and French leagues.
Now the chairman of USA Rugby Bob Latham, also a World Rugby council member, has admitted discussions have begun, although he accepts it would be a complex process.
“We’re certainly very interested but we need to take a realistic look at the feasibility of it and we haven’t crossed that fundamental step yet,” Latham said in an interview with ESPN. “Those discussions are at a very early stage but we would certainly look at that and see if it makes sense.
“When we receive interest of that kind it is somewhat flattering that people want to enter the market here and we are interested in taking a look at anything that grows and encourages interest in the sport.
“I’m not sure if we have any preconceived notions over how best to make it happen. There will be travel issues so the East Coast makes sense but if you look at the timing of the Pro12 competition, it can be difficult to play in the north-east part of the USA at that time of year. We have to balance the factor of where fans will turn out, where the weather will be conducive.”
The logistics of having a US team in the league, which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh, would be challenging to say the least but it is the latest development in rugby’s traditional heartlands looking to exploit the country where the sport is growing the fastest. Saracens and London Irish played an Aviva Premiership fixture in New York earlier in the year and Ireland will play New Zealand in Chicago this November.
The idea of harnessing the large Irish-heritage population on the American eastern seaboard to join a league which includes the provinces of Connacht, Ulster, Munster and Leinster is key to the idea and Browne told Irish media last week: “We can do what is needed to get a franchise up and running pretty quickly.”
The Pro12 TV deal is worth around a quarter of the one enjoyed by the English Premiership and Browne added: “Such an increase in values will require some radical change to the tournament… the expansion into new territories is probably a prerequisite and the first steps are being taken in relation to a new strategic plan.”