Executives say 18,500 crowd at Talen Energy Stadium integral to success of project and staging game on NFL and college football weekend is not a concern
Premiership Rugby expects its game in Philadelphia on 16 September to sell out, the main lesson of its venture to New Jersey in March 2016 having been that success in year one is that the event actually happens.
On a call with reporters this week, executives from the league, European champions Saracens and promoter AEG also said they were not concerned that the September game, the first in a new four-year deal, will fall on a weekend of NFL and college football.
Newcastle Falcons will be the home team at the Talen Energy Stadium, the home of the Philadelphia Union MLS team. Saracens were the away team in the first US fixture last year, winning 26-16 against London Irish in Harrison, New Jersey in front of an official attendance of 14,811.
The capacity of the Red Bull Arena is a little over 25,000. The Talen holds 18,500 and has sold out for rugby union before, when the USA lost 29-19 to the Maori All Blacks in 2013. This month, more than 22,000 attended the Eagles 55-19 defeat by Ireland at the Red Bull.
Its integral to the success of this project that the game is sold out, said Dominic Hayes, Premiership Rugbys commercial director who has experience of taking a uniquely American sporting product WWE the other way, to Europe. We need to build it and become a fixture in the Philadelphia sporting calendar.
The Philadelphia game sees AEG taking over US promotion from TLA, which promoted the London Irish fixture and USA v Ireland. In a crowded New York sports and media market, gaining visibility for the Irish-Saracens game proved challenging.
One hundred per cent we need to sell the game out, said Dan Lyle, the former Bath, Leicester and USA No8 who is now director of rugby for AEG. Thats got to be the goal. Well be disappointed if we dont get near enough.
Lyle dismissed concerns expressed in US rugby circles about the effect on publicity or TV audience of staging the game in the American football season. The Philadelphia Eagles are not in town on the weekend of 16 September. College power Penn State host Georgia State that evening.
Lyle said AEG saw rugby union as a complimentary sport to many of our sports, including football and basketball and by dint of being gladiatorial in nature. More to the point, he said, the promoting agency does not see the Aviva Premiership as some sort of rival, some sort of competition to football. AEG will work with Premiership Rugby and USA Rugby, he said, on an integrated approach to selling the game in Philadelphia and in markets across the US.
Hayes said the main lesson of the 2016 game in Jersey had been that success in year one is that the event actually happens, and added that when the 2017 game is staged, Premiership games will have been shown weekly on NBC Sports for a year. We were dark in TV experience of Premiership rugby last year, he said.
Last month, NBC expanded its commitment to showing rugby union in the US with a seven-year deal with World Rugby that covers the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups, the 2017 and 2021 Womens Rugby World Cups, the 2018 and 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens (the 2018 edition being staged in San Francisco) and the annual World Rugby Under-20 Championships.
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