It appears the Aviva Premiership is set to break new ground with the staging of a game overseas next season. It is rumoured London Irish are poised to take their traditional St. Patricks Day game to New York as part of a three-year deal between Premiership Rugby and USA Rugby designed to boost the profile of the sport on both sides of the Atlantic.
Super Rugby has of course already ventured down this route, although in different circumstances, with the Crusaders tackling the Sharks at Twickenham back in 2011 in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake. A crowd of 35,000 were lured to HQ that day and Irish will no doubt hope to tap into the Irish-American community for the New York fixture, but talk of an 80,000 sell-out at a venue like MetLife Stadium appears a bit fanciful.
It is all very exciting but what about the Exiles’ fans? Crowds were once again disappointing at Irish’s 24,000-seater Madejski Stadium home last season, with the attendance exceeding 8,000 just four times in the league – including the highly popular St Patricks Day game.
The All Blacks piqued interest within the sporting US public, as illustrated by the huge crowd at Chicago’s Soldier Field for last November’s game against the Eagles, but London Irish and whoever their scheduled opposition will not be such as easy sell.
Would the money and effort not be better spent in attracting new fans on Premiership Rugby’s doorstep, and who might continue to support the team long after the proposed game in New York? The Premiership final may continue to attract the masses to Twickenham but that is not reflected week in, week out at many Premiership grounds where the sport does not appear to matter enough to enough people.
Those fans that regularly rattle around the Madejski and are treated to an under-performing side are “rewarded” with the chance to fork out for what will not be a cheap jaunt across the Pond.
But with Saracens and Leicester also heading Stateside in the off-season, and probably more regular season games poised to be switched, it is something fans should get used to –or at least start saving for.