It was confirmed last week that the NRL season opener in Las Vegas would be broadcast to over 90 million Americans, and now the game is set for a 65,000 sell-out attendance.
That’s what former NFL running-back Todd Gurley believes with the former Los Angeles Rams star hailing America, but specifically the ‘City of Sin’ Las Vegas, as perfect for the NRL to launch.
The blockbuster season opener was confirmed earlier this year with two games to be held at Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium back to back, Manly Sea Eagles against South Sydney Rabbitohs preceding Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters.
It’s an incredibly bold move for the NRL to undertake but it seems to be one that has been popular with fans and players alike, and is now getting the plaudits from NFL stars such as Gurley.
Gurley knows first hand about the growth of sports in new markets with the NFL having ‘cracked’ Europe over the past decade, rising from one-off games to a European calendar this season that toured Tottenham Hotspurs’ Stadium and Frankfurt in Germany.
If the NRL can replicate the success of the NFL in growing to another continent then it’s possible these major events could become more common, and in turn create a mammoth fanbase in North America.
Only last week did Peter V’landys, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, and Andrew Abdo, NRL CEO, confirm that Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the games live.
That means the game will be on live television for 90 million Americans, whilst the channel’s reach in overseas territories such as Puerto Rico and the Caribbean takes the total reach to 137 million households.
Gurley spoke about the huge potential for growth of the sport whilst in Australia attending the NFL Flag National Championships.
“I’ve seen it on Instagram and social media, and that’s pretty much how you get your outreach now,” the 29-year-old told Fox Sports.
“Me being over here, I’ve been hearing about it more and more.
“I feel like in America we’re a little bit last minute, so people will be like ‘I heard the rugby league is on so I better get some tickets’.
“I feel like it’s definitely going to be sold out because it’s in Vegas and that’s a wonderful location to put it in.
“That gives rugby league fans and everyone else an excuse to go to Vegas. It’s a new stadium, so it makes sense to play there because you don’t want these guys playing in some old, rundown stadium.”
The stadium in question is Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium, known fondly to locals as the Death Star for it’s likeness with it’s namesake in Star Wars. The stadium itself cost almost $2 billion to build, making it the second most expensive in the world and therefore a major venue for the NRL to land.
Gurley did explain that whilst rugby was known in the US, it was predominantly rugby union, admitting there’s ‘some catching up to do’.
“We’re a little bit behind with the NRL, but that’s why you have these games. That’s why the NFL plays international games as well.
“We go to places in Europe where football is what we call soccer, but maybe we’re making a difference by taking games there and showing them our football.
“You’ve got to start like this (with the games in Vegas). You go over there every year and it’ll grow naturally.”
With the two incredible fixtures lined up, one including last season’s NRL runners-up Brisbane Broncos, it’s almost certain that Americans will get a taste for the NRL and from there it could grow exponentially.