Rugby purists may not like it, but there is a great deal professional rugby can learn from American Football, and in particular the NFL…
1.A workable salary cap
English rugby in particular has come under the spotlight in recent months for alleged breaches of the Premiership’s salary cap. In contrast, the NFL manages to employ a strict salary cap which teams adhere to, despite the money involved being many times greater than that in rugby. If the NFL can ensure that 32 multi-million dollar franchises all adhere to a strict cap, then surely Premiership Rugby should be able to keep 12 teams in check?
In addition to the salary cap, the draft helps keep the NFL interesting year after year by ensuring the lowest placed teams are able to recruit the best young talent. This helps even up the playing field, whilst also ensuring rookie players are given the opportunity to play on a regular basis almost from day one, rather than being signed up and sitting behind established starters. The draft also creates an incredible buzz around the NFL each off-season even though there are no games.
Some college teams in the US play football games in stadiums with a capacity in excess of 100,000. Other than the very top international games, rugby attendances are nowhere near this level, even in the top domestic leagues. By tapping into the local football fan base, college football is bigger than many professional sports, whilst also providing young talent not only with quality football exposure, but also a solid education should injuries cut short a player’s career.
4.Entertaining the whole family
A game of American football is about much more than just the game itself, instead it becomes an event for the whole family with live music, entertainment and even tailgating. We have seen the success of rugby employing similar tactics with World Cup fan zones, and big games hosted at Twickenham for clubs like Harlequins which includes live entertainment. This kind of matchday experience is sure to help bring out the whole family, even if their interest in rugby is negligible.
Rugby is finally cottoning on to the international marketing efforts of the NFL, but is someway behind. Currently there are three NFL games staged in London each season, although this is set to increase. This exposure has helped turn American football into one of the fastest growing sports in the UK thanks to the additional exposure. Whilst rugby teams are beginning to take games overseas, they are someway behind their American counterparts.
6.Setting up teams in the right market
The NFL is currently debating moving one of its teams to the lucrative Los Angeles area given the lack of a franchise in the surrounding area. The NFL’s willingness to relocate teams to areas to help ensure the even spread of the game is something rugby could learn a lot from. There are obviously some issues with this given the lack of popularity of rugby in some areas, but there is no doubt that the majority of teams tend to reside within close proximity of one another.
7.Starting them young
The set-ups of some high school football teams in the US would put many professional rugby clubs to shame. Teens are drafted into the top high school teams in the state from an early age and exposed to professional training and conditioning programmes designed to maximise their talent. Compare this to the set-up in a rugby hotbed like England and young rugby players are given nowhere near the same level of support or level of competition.