Hotel boss enthused by prospect of New York club

Virgin Atlantic and Hilton Hotels look set to be two of the major partners for the New York franchise after speaking out for the first time about their ambitions and hopes for the franchise.

The new club is set to be welcomed to the Rugby Football League structure in 2021, with final formalities being put in place ahead of their arrival.

Among that is tying down partnerships with the two travel and tourism powerhouses, who are in extended talks with officials from the franchise as they look to complete their travel and accommodation packages for travelling teams.

Paul Grande, the general manager of Hilton’s Newark Airport hotel, and James Rowan, head of sports partnership for Virgin Atlantic, were special guests at the Super League Grand Final and watched the game with New York founder, Ricky Wilby.

Grande, who flew from the United States to attend, outlined some of their plans for the partnership, which will see travelling teams and their supporters stay in the Hilton hotel based at Newark airport, five miles from the club’s proposed home at Red Bull Arena and ideally located for supporters travelling from Manchester on New York’s travel package.

“Ricky was looking in the area for hotels and the league came to our sales team and explained it was a potential start-up in the area,” Grande told League Express.

“I’m keen to grow our business, that’s the selfish part, then as I saw the potential of this league and the vision of it, I want to be as big a part of it as possible. From my end, we host world travel, so when I really realised what the fanbase is for this sport I understood that the potential is amazing.

“Our hotel is located literally right across the street from Newark Liberty International Airport, there are 378 rooms, so the team would be together on one floor or whatever their needs are. We have 9,000 square feet of meeting space where they can have their meetings, meals and private settings. We have a 24-hour fitness centre, a wellness studio, an indoor swimming pool and two restaurants on-site. We’re greatly located by great local restaurants they can attend and we’re not that far out of New York City. It’s a very easy ride if you want to go and see the Big Apple.

“Selfishly, it’s a great business opportunity not only for me but the entire Elizabeth area. We’re always looking to bring in different groups to help the entire community. In terms of rugby I think it can help it grow over here, not only in the United States but also internationally. There’s really not a down thing here. If the fans that travel with these teams can make the weekend of it, not only to just enjoy the game, but maybe on their first trip to the USA, then I think the location is superb. It could be great for the fans internationally as well as locally.”

Grande believes the sport will be a big hit in New York, despite fierce competition from other sports.

“My initial reaction, when not knowing the sport well, was that I couldn’t understand how it was surviving without all these concussion issues that we seem to experience in the States with our helmet sports.

“They were explaining that it was due to proper tackling and without a helmet on you’re not going to tackle leading with your head. It was explained to me that it’s all about tackle technique that’s taught at a young age and that could translate very well into a lot of sports in this country.

“I do think there would be a great fanbase that would want to see and experience this.

“I think that a sport that does not have a lot of equipment can work too. If you were a parent raising a child and looking at the sport, you’re not worried about buying a helmet, or hundreds of dollars worth of pads. Instead you get your boots, a ball and a field to be trained properly and you’re off and running.

“My understanding is that the season is between February and October. Well in February we’ve probably completed the football season with the Super Bowl and everyone is anxious to get into the next big thing. This country is getting used to diversity in sports. It seems everything overlaps, whether that’s NHL and NFL with the MLB. There’s no shortage of people over here that enjoy sport venues, and looking at the economics I think this is very affordable too.

“It’s very hard to take a family to an NFL or MLB game as it costs you hundreds of dollars. That’s just to get in the door and before getting something to eat. The venue at the RB Arena is a perfect spot, centrally located and I do think it’s set to be a very affordable venue that can only do good things for people.

“One of the most impressive things about the weekend (in Manchester) for me was the complete fanaticism of the entire fanbase. It was impressive to experience, especially towards the end of the game when not one person left their seat and were still just as enthusiastically supporting their team. Even 30 minutes after the game was over they were just as jubilant as they were at the beginning of the game, and that was far more impressive than what we do over here.”