The Garry Schofield Column: The event Super League should take to Las Vegas

IT’S been interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking watching the NRL start their season in Las Vegas as that juggernaut organisation tries to gain a foothold in North America.

I know a few folk who headed over The Pond to enjoy a stay in the city and take in the big double-header of Manly defeating South Sydney and Sydney Roosters beating Brisbane.

One of them messaged me with just one word, ‘Unbelievable!’

Of course it was at the Allegiant Stadium, which is close to the famous Strip and recently hosted the NFL Super Bowl. It is right up there among the world’s most famous sporting venues.

Hollywood star Russell Crowe’s involvement via the Rabbitohs has really helped raise the profile of Rugby League in the USA, and I reckon that once sports fans over there witness what we offer – as the advertising slogan goes ‘no helmets, not pads, no timeouts’ – they’ll want more.

The beauty of the NRL’s approach is that they have the funds and expertise to underpin a bold marketing strategy, and they have a long-term business plan, so that having made a bright first impression, they will build on it.

Initially it’s a five-year project both to get a share of the lucrative North American market in terms of watching on TV as well as in the flesh and also betting and sponsorship, and to grow the game there.

Significant efforts have been made to get in at grass-roots level, providing an opportunity to play the game as well as watch the world’s best in action, with a commitment to staging opening-round NRL matches there until at least 2028 – and continuing the work on the ground.

I think the logistics and financial aspect mean that in terms of North American teams, creating a strong and vibrant North American league is the way forward, rather than revisiting the Toronto Wolfpack scenario of playing in our system.

It will always be hard to make a trans-Atlantic competition work because of the travel, time-zone issues and sheer cost of regular trips between continents (our game clearly doesn’t have anything like the financial muscle of the NRL).

To make a significant impression on the North American public, you need the top teams visiting on a regular basis, but of course Toronto came in at League One level, meaning home matches were all a bit low-key.

And with effectively one man putting the money in, the project was pretty much built on sand and always vulnerable.

What I do think is worth considering is taking Magic Weekend to Las Vegas.

I think it is far more financially realistic, the trip would have appeal for our supporters, and it would help to get Super League on the radar there.