With the sports world quiet due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Minneaoplis entrepreneur has taken this opportunity to launch his new rugby league. League Commissioner, Michael Clements, has announced the re-launch of the National Rugby Football League (NRFL).
Clements is confident in the timing of starting this new league, “With people at home, it has allowed potential partners to make time for us. There are people out there who are still on the outlook for opportunity, and we are a major opportunity.”
To ensure the league’s success, Clements plans to form a Founders Group to support the NRFL teams in eight U.S. cities. “The Founders Group will own an undivided and non-dilutable interest in all of the founding eight NRFL teams. The Founders Group receives the full benefit of professional sports team ownership without having the obligation to operate them,” says Clements.
“We have researched the industry and understand the resources necessary to field a team to have long-term sustainability and growth,” said Clements. “Based on that, we are in the process of identifying suitable cities to house teams in our mission to put one of the best products on the pitch globally.”
Clements believes in the huge economic potential of a rugby league in the United States, “Rugby is a big-league sport and a multi-billion economy.” With nearly 800 million fans worldwide, and Americans hungry for a contact sport to watch during the NFL and college football off-season, the NRFL has tremendous potential for growth and capitalization of this market.
While the U.S. already has a professional rugby presence in the existing Major League Rugby league, the NRFL aims to be on par with large international leagues. The NRFL plans to be the first professional U.S. rugby league with a salary cap that is competitive with other international rugby leagues.
To attract top international talent, the NRFL aims to have a $9,000,000 salary cap, dwarfing the $500,000 salary cap in Major League Rugby. Clements cites the necessity of this high salary cap, “We want our players to be 100% full-time rugby players, which means paying them on par with the rest of the big rugby leagues out there.” With this salary cap, the average salary on the NRFL’s 35-man rosters would be $250,000.
Rugby leagues in the United States have struggled to see maintained success in the past. In 2012, the American professional Rugby Competition looked into forming a league, but never took off. PRO Rugby debuted in 2016 and flopped after one season. The NRFL even attempted a 2015 launch, but paused and shifted to its single-entity structure. USA Rugby recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week.
To not repeat the failures of these past leagues, the NRFL is building a team of industry experts to ensure long-term sustained success. “We have been diligent in building a team of world-class executives and partners with proven experience in all aspects of the professional sports industry, including organizational formation, player development, legal, team operations, facility negotiations, technology, media and marketing,” said Clements. “These executives hail from the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, and domestic and international rugby. This is the most substantial sports entertainment play we are likely to see in our lifetimes. We believe this is the right time and the right team to bring the highest level of professional rugby to North America.”
The league is even backed by the NFL Alumni Association, which plans to build a high-performance center for tackle-sport athletes in partnership with the NRFL. Clements wants to use this facility to host NFL combine-like events to showcase college football players, serving as a potential feeding ground for both leagues.
CEO of the NFL Alumni, Beasley Reece, is optimistic about this collaboration, “We are excited to partner with the National Rugby Football League in an unprecedented training facility for tackle sport athletes and look forward to collaborating with the NRFL in bringing the fastest growing sport to mainstream America and reaching almost 800 million global rugby followers.”
Bart Oates, NFL Alumni President, added, “The storied history of the global sport of rugby has significantly influenced our game of professional football from the teamwork aspect to the term ‘touchdown’. The NFL Alumni Association is pleased to support and endorse the NRFL in bringing the other tackle sport to the absolute highest professional level in the United States.”
The NRFL has turned to Hilton Houghton, a South Africa based agent for rugby players, to advise the league and use his connections to top players to lure them to the league. He believes that the league’s structure, support, and high salary cap will make the league a success.
“The U.S. is the world’s largest sports market and the last frontier for rugby to conquer,” says Houghton. “For my elite players, this market is very exciting. Everyone loves the U.S. and has dreams of making it big there. The NRFL will be the Hollywood of rugby.”