The NFL season may be over, but a Minneapolis native aims to appease your appetite in the future during the offseason with a sport similar to football.
Michael Clements, a University of Minnesota alumnus, is one of the co-founders for The National Rugby Football League, owned by RugbyLaw, LLC, based in Minneapolis. He’s attempting to establish the first professional rugby league in the United States in 2016.
“Between now and next September, there’s an abyss that we’d fill by planting the rugby league seed in that same space that will be able to get some crossovers [from football fans] that can get their appetite satisfied until September kicks in again.” Clements said.
The league released a 60-man roster Monday whose players will train sometime in May to face the Leicester Tigers, who have won 10 rugby titles in England’s highest professional rugby league, in August. Clements said the Independence Cup match will be held at an NFL stadium and the venue should be finalized within the next week.
The NRFL established its roster for this game, featuring a number of former NFL players, from two combines held in the Twin Cities last year and at the Los Angeles Coliseum three weeks ago. Clements said the league had about 240 players registered for the combine in Los Angeles, including former Packers running back Ahmad Green.
“We put them through drills that are synonymous with an NFL combine but also with rugby skilled drills that demonstrated their capacity to pick up on the sport but also crossover,” Clements said.
Clements, who played rugby for 15 years, hopes to grow the game domestically in what has become an untapped market. USA Rugby, an amateur governing rugby body in America, hosted a match at Soldier Field in Chicago against the New Zealand All Blacks on Nov. 1 that sold out and was aired nationally.
“In the midst of football season with the NCAA and NFL [in season], Soldier Field was sold out without even trying,” Clements said. “Needless to say, rugby does have a following.”
Clements expects to have six to 12 franchises during the first season, with Minneapolis becoming one of the initial teams. He’s been in discussions for possible homes at the new Vikings stadium or TCF Bank Stadium.
“Having this game in the new stadium and having professional rugby played here, it brings in all the more international exposure,” Clements said. “Not just on a local level, but on a national and international basis. Being a city that has an international airport and is easy to get in-and-out of, you can see how something like this will bring more activity and commerce.”
The next two years will be interesting to see how rugby catches on in America, especially now that Rugby sevens will be an Olympic sport during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It won’t trump the popularity of the NFL but could serve as a substitute during the offseason.