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.
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!!!”
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 has said that he is happy with the answers that William Tatham has provided.
I emailed Peter Illfield at the USARL but have not received a reply as of yet.