Grand Prix Entertainment: What Does it Mean for Rugby League in the USA?

By Daniel Andruczyk

Last weeks news of the acquisition of the American national Rugby League by Grand Prix Entertainment group has been one of the big pieces of news to come out of the United States since they qualified for the Rugby league World Cup in 2013 last autumn in Chester, New Jersey. For years we all have stood on the sidelines waiting in anticipation, every time we heard an announcement that there was going to be a professional competition in the United States and that the competition will grow and become professionalized. And for so many years we have been disappointed. To the point where many of the team in early 2011 were so frustrated by this that they broke away to form their own competition.

However with last Fridays announcement, do we finally see the first seeds of what can finally blossom into the next semi-professional or professional competition. One that will compete with the likes of the French, New Zealanders and Papua New Guineans? Or should I dare say it they will compete with the British and Australian competitions? Grand Prix Entertainment seems to think so! I contacted Grand Prix Entertainment and asked them about their vision for the sport and how the whole deal came about. I was able to talk with William Tatham, the Chairman of Grand Prix entertainment. Though there is much about the deal that is still confidential and cannot be discussed he was able to give some insight into the whole thing. I also have contacted other parties that are affected by the deal including the American National Rugby League, USA Rugby and the USA Rugby League.

William Tatham, Chairman of Grand Prix Entertainment

I started by asking, what the plans for Rugby league in the USA are, will there be a 7s style competition for Rugby League in the USA or will individual games be televised? This, I felt was an important question considering that they exclusively organise the Rugby Union 7s in the USA. William was adamant,

“First and foremost, we will not make a move that isn’t supported by our partners at USA Rugby, nor our new partners at the AMNRL.”

“ Second, please be assured I wouldn’t have done this without the input and support of all our partners. Even though American won the last Olympic Rugby Gold,  U.S. market today is a virtual virgin re rugby. Neither Union, League or Grand Prix can afford to be limited to anything but good solid business principals and good solid Union and League rugby on their respective pitches.”

“It’s no good to Union or League if at the end of the day, the sport doesn’t grow and prosper. We intend on growing and prospering, both business wise and on the field. We intend on focusing our Sevens efforts 100% on the Olympic game, meaning of course Union Sevens via our Exclusive Sanction and License Agreement with USA Rugby.”

“Pursuant to this ground breaking agreement, Grand Prix owns the exclusive right to own, operate and globally broadcast professional “union” sevens, and we intend on doing just that. And not via a long term, grass roots effort, Instead via the richest sevens championship in world history, played by the world’s greatest teams, for worldwide distribution. That’s the kind of “Grass Roots” that resonates with the American sports fan. We’d be foolish to do otherwise, and we try to avoid being foolish whenever possible.’”

“Having said that, rest assured we have great plans for Rugby League, and every intention of introducing the game to the American viewer. But not at any less than first rate, professional level rugby. And sooner than later, trust me.”

With this I asked, will there be a professional competition set up any time soon?

“Absolutely, our acquisition (or merger) with the American National Rugby League was a long planned and final goal of our multi-year, multi-million dollar “Planning, Protecting and Projecting” pre launch start up.”

“We are committed to Rugby, period. With all the weapons in place, we intend on launching the most aggressive rugby start up, player development program rugby world has ever seen. And doing it in the United States, the world’s greatest sports market and home to the world’s greatest athletes.”

How does this play with the Tomahawks and their preparations to the world cup next year?

“While Union Rugby is clearly the “NFL” of world rugby, Rugby League is a bitchen sport, totally appeals to the American football fan, and one we are fully behind. We will fund and support the AMNRL’s efforts to field the greatest team possible, and make every effort to win the RLIF 2013 World Cup. The days of American Rugby, regardless of ‘code’, being satisfied with “a competitive show by the boys” is OVER. We want to do what every American sports team, player and fan wants to do…. WIN!”

“We don’t believe in ties, and we don’t believe in second place. We think all our champions are world champions. And we want our rugby champions to be world champions. Simply put, Grand Prix is committed to winning every World Cup and every Olympics. With money, and America’s athletes, nothing else should be acceptable should it?”

What is the worth of the deal to acquire the AMNRL for your organisation and theirs?

“Priceless for us, and invaluable for them. Star Group and David Niu have accomplished amazing things and we are totally proud to say they are our partners. Not to mention, again, Rugby League is totally bitchen to this non rugby, typical American football fan.”

How was the deal brokered and how much of a say did the clubs have?

“By the principals; me and my partner Alan Rothenberg, Start Group, David Niu and his AMNRL clubs. They had everything to say about the merger, why would we want partners who didn’t want to be partners with us? Especially those awesome players who have put their bodies where their mouths are and by their own blood, sweat and tears have proven Rugby League is truly “football without pads.”… and is here to stay.”

Another important question is, how much of the money (if any) will the clubs see?

“As much as they dare to risk playing for.”

With GP entertainment now holding both Union and League will there be joint events held?

“Absolutely, yet let me be very clear. We will not dilute either sport, their players or their fans. We will honor our commitments, and their codes.”

“Joint Events? f your are asking if we will make every opportunity to every player who dares to bare his teeth and compete on the pitch, whatever the code? Yes. But again, the two codes will be independently organized, administered, and absolutely 100% supported in their own right. Key to our decision was this. Rugby is the Great Game.”

“Rugby is what we want to build, promote, respect. Union and League comprise Rugby in the U.S. What we’ve done is assured American rugby players and fans that Grand Prix’s innovative production and distribution plans will be offered to both codes independently, yet under one production umbrella.”

How does Star Group play a role with their holdings in the AMNRL with GP entertainment?

“A HUGE ROLE. No other marketing group in the U.S. saw what I saw seven years ago like Start Group’s Linda Rosanio, Jan Talamo and Greg Peter saw. That Rugby was the “Sport of the 21st Century.” I simply cannot think of better partners than Star Group as they “get it”.

“And trust me. We will win.”

You must be aware of the split that happened in the USA with Rugby League last year, the USA Rugby league. Have there been any moves on yours, the AMNRL’s or the theirs about fixing the split and unifying the sport?

“Yes and absolutely. Everyone is committed to unifying the sport as no doubt the sum of Rugby League is far greater than the parts. Especially in this case as Peter and his team are consummate professionals, who share my long term vision for this great sport in this great country.”

A point of clarification as this seems to be a hot question and debate on the Rugby league forums… did GP Ent. buys the whole AMNRL organisation or just the competition side of things? People seem to think that the clubs are sold to GP entertainment now as well?

“We merged our companies to make the AMNRL bigger, stronger and faster. Yet the AMNRL remains 100% AMNRL owned and operated as always.”

“Win – Win across the board!!”

William went on further to say that “I promise you this Daniel. We will change the way Rugby is seen here in the U.S.; and the way U.S. Rugby is seen around the world. Soon, a bracket that includes the U.S. team will be feared as it should be, vs an easy path to a Championship. Union Sevens!! Rugby League!!  AMERICAN RUGBY CHAMPIONS!!!”

 

Nigel Melville, CEO and President Rugby Operation, USA Rugby.

I asked Nigel “Since GP entertainment is also running the Rugby 7s in America does this mean that Rugby Union and Rugby League in the United States will soon be joining forces in a partnership where we will see both Rugby union and Rugby league events?

“In short, no this does not link our organizations in any direct way, other than we have a common partner (Grand Prix). Yes, Grand prix will run a rugby union sevens event, if Rugby League run a Rugby League Sevens that would be under Rugby League rules, not Rugby Union, therefore they are significantly different.”

Are the recent Rugby Union games that have been hosted at the AMNRL Tomahawk internationals (USA v Ireland and USA v Tonga) part of this partnership?

Yes those games were run by the Hawaii Union, David Wendt ran them, they were friendly games.

 

David Niu, President of the American National Rugby League (AMNRL)

David has said that he is happy with the answers that William Tatham has provided.

 

Peter Illfield, Chairman of the USA Rugby League (USARL)

I emailed Peter Illfield at the USARL but have not received a reply as of yet.

 

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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38 Responses to “Grand Prix Entertainment: What Does it Mean for Rugby League in the USA?”

  1. Martin says:

    He doesn’t answer the question about ownership at all. It’s changed but nothing has changed, apparently. It is simply not acceptable that a private company should own a governing body, and no serous sport would allow it. Can you imagine the response from the IRB if Grand Prix tried to buy USA Rugby?

    By all means they could operate competitions or events on behalf of the NGB but that’s it. What a joke.

  2. USARUGGER says:

    WHAT A LOAD OF BULL. I highly dought that they will have nothing but American players in the 2013 RLWC

  3. Miyuso says:

    I’ve spoken to three different clubs in the AMNRL and none had heard anything before the deal was done, and at least one isn’t happy with this turn of events.

  4. deluded pom? says:

    Run that one past me again please RUGGER.

  5. roml357 says:

    Well this is clear as mud.

    Also Im not keen on this whole league and union thing being promoted under the same roof.

    • druzik says:

      Yes, I am not keen on that either, but then again I don’t think its been a secret that the AMNRL has been trying to forge these links.

      On twitter you could always see that David and AMNRL members were going out to the &s in Vegas etc… I am sure that all this was being planned back then.

  6. Fighter says:

    What is there for Peter to respond to Druzik, it has absolutely nothing to do with us. The USARL do not know any details of the GPR & AMNRL relationship, other than that in the press release on their website, nor the impact it will have on the AMNRL.

    The USARL will continue to conduct our 2012 season as planned.

  7. dragons4eva says:

    I’ve always been of the opinion that Union should stick to union and League should stick to league! There’s no reason why we should be involved with RU circles this much.

    Look don’t get me wrong i respect both codes of footy…however i just don’t see the benefit of promoting both codes as if one takes off the ground the other one is pretty much forced too as well. Although this is good in theory…one code could leech off the other to get noticed which would be unfair on either RL or RU!

    I just don’t understand this theory people have that “any professional comp of rugby in the States will help the other one too!” To me that’s just utter BULLS#$%!!!

    In Australia we know Gridion exists but very few people can actually tell the difference between Canadian Football and American Football! I have even mates who live in Sydney and they ask me the differences between RL and RU!

    I just think we should promote RL and NOT RU!!! If people get confused then so be it! If we purely promote RL by itself then naturally people will know of the RL brand and eventually know the difference between the two codes!

    • druzik says:

      There are some that thing there is an even gang way between the two sports… we know that this is not really the case.

      I agree let Union promote unoin and league promote league.

      I can see why a company wnats both, but it looks like both will come under the one banner, this does not work.

  8. Robbo says:

    There is much hysteria about the merge but from what I see is that Grand Prix are a company that can see the potential of RL as a product and are keen to get it to the US public but at the same time maintaining the differentiation between the 2 codes. I think the hysterics about RL and RL merging are a bit melodramatic, they are stll going to be 2 seperate entites, Grand Prix just happens to promote them both and if that can help RL gain a foothold in the US market then why not?

    The irony in the whole situation is that I think Grand Prix have gotten into bed with the wrong crowd, the USARL are clearly the more professional association and have the greatest potential of achieving a semi-pro or fully professional comp.

    What aggravates me is that this is a major event in the history of RL in the US and all David Nui has to say is ‘I’m happy with what he said’. How about digressing what is actually ocurring with this deal and explain to the RL fans and community the ramifications for the game from this partnership? Or is that too much to ask for from someone who is supposed to be in charge of the game in the US? Good to see nothing has changed and the stakeholders and fans are continually left in the dark.

  9. Ashley says:

    I think us fans outside the USA probably invest too much emotioanlly in the idea of America taking our sport to the next level. I think on forums we need to take a measued step back and just let the guys on the ground in the States go about their business, especially as most of the time we don’t have all the facts which just leads to the same circular arguements over and over.

    By the way, great article Dan, good to see someone get in contact with GPE and get a bit more info out into the public.

  10. Tony says:

    Even allowing for business confidentiality, thought Grand Prix’s answers provided very little detail.

  11. Victor says:

    Good job, Daniel.
    Sounds promising for US Rugby League.
    I wish we have someone like Grand Prix Entertainment here in Russia.
    Cheers&Beers from Russian Bears,
    Best,
    Victor

    • druzik says:

      Money is always good Victor… but as always you have to be careful how you sell it.

      I think that is the issue coming out of this, no one knows how the sport has been sold in the USA.

  12. International Observer says:

    I’m screaming as I type this. I can’t say what I want to say as you’ll remove my post Dan.
    Some good points by readers though and I agree that there isn’t much for Peter Illfield to respond to.
    It’s hard not to think the AMNRL want anything but money. I can assure you 100% that not all AMNRL players knew this was happening. GPE CEO talks like a politician and skirted around some answers and Dave Niu’s response sounds like the holy then though answer most of us have come to expect. He feels he answers to no one. Some of the guys involved with rugby league in America since the mid to late 90’s including me are not very impressed.

  13. Kingsland7 says:

    After reading this I feel quite reserved, it will be interesting to see what will happen.

    William seems to be on high octane to say the least! I have never read an interview with so many explosions and car chases in my life!!

  14. rugby rocket scientist says:

    Seems interesting. Wondering what will happen to the two leagues now? Why do they dislike each other? Now union as well wow gonna be some competition for TV. How do teams get the best slot. Will some games be on TV from either league to see or maybe online?

    • druzik says:

      Not sure. I have no idea what the USARL are doing in terms of their promotion.

      I dont think Union will have competition, the two sports, is all is as GPS say, are separate and what ever deals they get will not impact each other.

  15. rugbylife says:

    Thanks for the article and the attempt to shed some light on the GP Entertaiment deal. Sadley, Tatham revealed little except for his obvious lack of knowledge of the “bitchen” sport he’s trying to promote. Hopefully Nui didn’t knock the ball on and will inform us soon about the benefits of this merger.

    • druzik says:

      Maybe.

      Look the numbers I have heard thrown around … and this is not confirmed just rumours… $250k over 6 years… but then again it could be $250k a year for 6 years… no one knows.

  16. Shaun says:

    Interesting figures.
    According to Lawrence from RIR, the average team spends about $50-60K a year.
    As much as any financial injections is great, you can see $250K isn’t going to go far when you run a comp across a country the size of the US.
    If a country like Norway got the money, then you would expect a full pro comp.

    • druzik says:

      well with 6 club teams in the comp lets say, and well there are also the development teams… so 20 teams in the AMNRL, even at $250k a year I guess it will be $12.5k a year for each team… but you need to take out AMNRL running costs, plus the tomahawks and all that another $50k maybe so really maybe $10k a year for the teams?

      if its spread over the 6 years then that makes it just over $41k per year and thus it barely covers the costs of running the AMNRL and Tomahawks.

      But as I said… these are not concrete figures, I could be wrong.

  17. International Observer says:

    The USARL are not involved in anyway with this deal. Unless the AMNRL (ie Star Group) swallow their pride and patch things up, don’t expect to see USARL games as part of the GPE deal. It’s ashame considering the vast majority of players and fans in the States believe the USARL is a better product with better games, more mainland teams and a very professional approach. I can tell you there are AMNRL players including Tomahawk players who would prefer to play in the USARL and are not happy. I’ve heard this straight from those players. They feel very pressured and have basically been threatened by Niuy and the AMNRL. World Cup positions have been used to essentially hold these players to ransom yet the RLIF don’t want to know about it.

    • druzik says:

      Well if a vast majority of players feel this way then they can swap… they do not have to be in the AMNRL if they don;t want.

      I am not sure the statement of vast majority of fans is true… first we don’t know how many fans are out there and second we don’t know what they think, its not like a poll has been done or anything.

      Also, considering that the tomahawks will be predominantly overseas players, I am not sure how players see Tomahawks spots are ransom. If players really do feel this way, then they have the power to enact change in the organisation either by confronting the AMNRL or walking away top the USARL. Many like to use the recent internationals… fine lets do that… positions seem to go to only newly converted players from Union or other regions with no experience and also to any USARL player that has switched back… but I guarantee those players won’t be there come 2013… everyone knows this… all teams will be doing it so its nothing different for the AMNRL to do that, but that is the situation. If your friends in the comp feel that way then they need to take that into account as well… they can effect their competition

      AMNRL … or any club, cannot function without players. If there is a large enough walk out or movement they have to listen, they have no choice and so will the RLIF.

      It is that simple.

  18. rugbylife says:

    Simple as it may be, why all the secrecy? Wasn’t this billed as good news? The AMNRL season kicks off June 2nd. Shouldn’t the clubs be informed of what their futures may hold with less than 2 weeks to the start of the season? Aren’t they owed at least that much, “Especially those awesome players who have put their bodies where their mouths are and by their own sweat and tears have proven” themselves to Rugby Leauge. Most haven’t shed tears, blood yes, maybe the tears are coming shortly.

  19. International Observer says:

    Sorry Dan, things are not quite that simple, be good if they were. Some of those that weren’t happy did breakaway but not all are able to do that for various reasons. Playing for the USA has been used to keep players and lure others back, Britt, Pope and Dawn to name a few and I’m not talking just WC games as their are plenty of USA games planned.
    What you do is great and we all enjoy your site, however unless you’ve been involved in RL in the States as a player, coach or administrator I dont expect you are others to understand that just walking away, although an option, is much easier said than done.

    • druzik says:

      Fair enough… you are right I am not involved in the USA in those forms, and I know the situations more complicated that what usually seem to think. But its just an opinion that I felt should be out there.

      Yes we all know the Tomahawks spots are used to blackmail essentially players into staying. I have heard many, many a great story from people about how its been done… but in the end if the situation one way or another becomes untenable for a player, only they can effect a change they need. That was my point… it will mean sacrifices, sometimes that is what’s needed.

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