USA Rugby League

By Daniel Andruczyk

So as the saying goes, “Famous last words”. Thus I said these  on Monday when wrote that “rumours of a split in the AMNRL have died down”. Well Rugby League in the USA has now officially fractured into two groups. Now this article I will be treading carefully. I will not be giving any opinions either way for two reasons. First that the info here is only from one side , the USARL and I am still waiting to hear from the AMNRL their version of events. Secondly I want to stay impartial and be able to report on both sides as I do with Italy and any other split. Once I have all the info I will then write an opinion piece breaking things down.

USARL is formed

So as we saw in yesterdays announcement, seven out of the twelve existing AMNRL clubs (I say twelves since the Bucks County Sharks have come back in the fold) have left the AMNRL: These are Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, New Haven, Washington, Fairfax and Boston and Philadelphia. This leaves Connecticut, New York, Aston, Bucks County, Northern Raiders (apparently renamed New York Raiders now). There are rumours as of Monday that an eighth team will break away and join the USARL. The USARL will also have two new teams join its ranks the New York Kodiaks and New Jersey Knights. This will give it a 10 team strong competition and the inaugural season will be in 2011.

Having spoken to people from two of the breakaway clubs, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, its my understanding that the reasons for the split comes down essentially to one reason – The Star Group –  and its control over all things AMNRL. The Star Group is a Promotions company that was brought in Last year by David Niu to promote the AMNRL and Rugby League in the USA. It runs the We Are Rugby website which heavily promotes the AMNRL. It also took control of any merchandising of the clubs, it was going to market and promote and the proceeds supposedly go back to the clubs. The AMNRL website was to be re-vamped as well as websites of other clubs. In essence none of this came about and in frustratingly clubs were losing money and sponsors because of it.

The Atlantic Cup last year, however, which should have been organised and run by Star Group and the AMNRL was put onto the Jacksonville Club. They were OK with that but the merchandise that they had developed was not allowed to be used and only Star Group merchandise was used. The Axemen agreed to this but ended seeing no proceeds from the sales of merchandise and ended up losing money on the venture it turns out.

In general the clubs were not happy with the way the whole thing was being run and organised, with no merchandise and no AMNRL website clubs were losing money and un able to attract sponsorship. On the 21st of January a league meeting was to be had for the 2011 season. All had to RSVP by the 7th and had to accept that Star Group would run everything. It was at this point that a letter was sent out to David Niu and the AMNRL members asking for transparency, to see where the money was and was going so that teams could plan themselves for obtaining funds to travel. This was refused.

There has also been an issue as I understand with no one from the clubs or outside the Star Group could input ideas on the running of the AMNRL and how to best suit the clubs and competition in its future development. There has been no transparency or information within the AMNRL on any of the negotiations regarding TV deals and the professional competition. This in the end has led to 7 clubs saying if they cant get transparency then they will break away.

As we have seen the split happened and so this means that the USARL demands were not met.

Speaking to Glenn Csonka (pr. Zonka) from the Pittsburgh Sledgehammers team (formerly Vipers), they said that basically they want the clubs to have a say in the running of the competition. They also need to be able to control their own merchandising, and having a league website that is updated regularly so they can point sponsors towards it. Money is of an essence for these clubs, for travel and for hiring grounds, uniforms etc… and they were losing that revenue.

When covering the Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville last year, there were a few rumblings about the fact that the Axemen were the ones footing the bill. There was no split talk at that time either, just to be clear but you could sense that there was tension in the air at times over some things.

The clubs in the new USARL will have a more direct involvement in the running of the game. There will be a democratic process in stalled where by clubs will have a voice and have a vote in how the new organisation is run. Each club will also be responsible for its own merchandising, this way they have control on one of their main revenue streams and if they don’t get any merchandising up and running then its their fault and no one else’s to blame. A meeting of the new USARL will be held by all the clubs involved on the 29th of January in Philadelphia and will set the competition schedule and iron out the details of the new organisation and competition.

Tomahawks?

As for the the Tomahawks and International game. The AMNRL has an international against Ireland in March, however the bulk of that team has now switched to the USARL. From what I understand the USARL clubs will not stand in the way if players will be selected and want to play in the March game. The legalities of this however I don’t know and will not comment on. I have seen tweets from the Philadelphia Fight saying they will not stand in the way of their players wanting to play in March. The big question now will be, however, how will the RLIF perceive this split?

Rugby League Super Bowl?

I did ask the question to Glenn and Ken DeLucia at Pittsburgh if there could be the possibility of the two organisations existing side by side, and at the end of the season have a “Super Bowl” type game where the champions of the two competitions come together to decide the best team in the country. They certainly were not against the idea and felt ultimately it could be a positive for the game.

David Niu’s Efforts Recognised

David Niu’s efforts are recognised. The Pittsburgh guys certainly say they appreciate all the work the last 13 years David has put in, but now that change is needed if the sport will go ahead. I also have had some correspondence from Darryl “Spinner” Howland from the Jacksonville Club. One of the the things that he emphasised was that the USARL initiative was not led by him or the Axemen but a group effort led by 9 clubs which wanted to have more of a say in their future and have a voice in the AMNRL – the outcome not being favourable for them they have separated. Spinner says that the clubs have now formed a “Co-operative league” that gives each member club an equal voice. Spinner went on to say that “We (nor I directly) did not lead the charge as reported in many – ‘rumoured and assumed’ statements – we are equally one of 9 ”.

Summary

So basically it all has come down to this, that the Star Group allegedly took control of the AMNRL promising much and delivering little but since nothing was transparent and no one was able to get a look into the running of things, clubs wanting to see the workings and finances were denied and so broke away to form a new USARL competition. The new USARL will give clubs a greater say in where the sport goes and also control of merchandising, which is an important revenue stream, will also be given back to the clubs. There will be a new website which will be updated regularly as to help with the attraction of sponsorship.

So this is the insight I have been able to get on the USARL. I am now waiting upon the AMNRL to give their version of events. This will hopefully give RLIS readers food for thought and make up their mind where things should be. Once all this is done I will have my own say on the whole situation. It’s imperative that this site is kept impartial and allows both sides to be heard.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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