IF you stood outside a Super League or NRL ground and asked fans as they left where the 2025 World Cup is to be held, how many would know?
I’d wager that in England, only around 50 per cent would say “America” or “the US and Canada”. In Australia, it would be much, much lower.
Some there might not even be able to tell you where it is this year (psst, it’s in Australia)!
The comments of Nigel Wood this week regarding England playing matches in North America were a timely reminder of an event that may be the most important in our sport’s history.
A World Cup in North America is to rugby league what the Mars Mission is to humanity. It’s not about our very survival just yet – but in the end it could be.
Yet it’s easy to get the impression that the fact we’re taking a World Cup to North America, to be played in sprawling stadia in famous cities in the world’s biggest media market, just hasn’t sunk in.
Yes, 2025 is a long way off – but not THAT far off. The 2008 World Cup in Oz doesn’t seem that long ago, does it? You remember the final, right? Just like yesterday.
One of the possible issues with having a private promoter, Australian Jason Moore, running the thing is that the various national governing bodies around the world will just leave things up to him. He’s doing taking the risk and handing over a cheque and rugby league is better at few things more than accepting a cheque.
I’m not sure if people realise what an opportunity the 2025 World Cup presents for rugby league.
Someone else is footing the bill for us to do something we’ve been trying to do since the 1950s – crack America. We should be bending over backwards to help him.
To their credit, the RFL identified the potential across the pond in admitting the Toronto Wolfpack, who I think most people would regard as a great success so far.
Forget expansion for the altruistic reasons – spreading the game, broadening horizons, etc. Let’s look at the purely commercial.
In Australia, one of the major terrestrial TV networks is having financial difficulties. That means less competitive tension when the current rights deal is up and, potentially, not much of an increase on the current figure of $A2 billion.
In England, Sky is remodelling the way it sells subscriptions. People don’t want to buy a multi-channel service anymore, they just want to watch their shows at a time convenient to them.
All of this threatens rugby league’s number one source of income. Setting up teams in new markets, with separate media assets, is more important than ever. North America offers new fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
Saturday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph has a fully-sponsored Arsenal wrap-around cover with a transparent panel in the wake of a friendly against Sydney FC that drew a packed house. Premier League clubs have long known the value of spreading the reach of their brand.
Here we have someone else doing the heavy lifting for us and not one NRL or Super League club has made public any plans to play in the US or Canada in the foreseeable future.
Looking this particular gift horse in the mouth will not be judged favourably by those writing the game’s history for future generations.