Where the NRL failed (apart from in Las Vegas)

12 March 2024

If aim of the NRL hosting the 2024 rugby league season opener in Las Vegas was to impress the Australian journalists they treated to lavish hospitality on a free trip to the States to watch the spectacle, they succeeded admirably. But if the NRL actually wanted to entice sports loving Americans to develop a passion for league, the endeavour was always doomed to failure. But there's a simple solution to get Americans to love rugby league.

The NRL managed to achieve one thing with their grand experiment in wowing Americans by playing two opening round matches in Las Vegas: flying more people across the planet to report on a footy match than actually watched the matches on TV locally. 

 Well, not quite, but the NRL must have forked out what economists refer to as a shitload of money to fly half of the Australian media to Vegas to drum up hype for the league double header that managed to score just 61,000 TV viewers at best.

The NRL can try to put a positive spin on this or debate where their marketing strategies failed, but if the aim was to get Americans excited about rugby league ("it's like the NFL, but no helmets and without play stopping every time someone touches the ball"), their big mistake was going to Las Vegas at all. Sure, it did get the cashed up young league players away from the toxic gambling culture of NSW for a bit, but Las Vegas is the absolute worst place* to attract attention to your great big glitzy event; every other great big glitzy event is there was well, all vying for attention. 

And Las Vegas doesn't care. They've got U2 in the Egg Carton, Dayton Ohio Las Vegas, and Cirque du Soleil: Nana Mouskouri opening this week. Visitors to Vegas aren't going to check out the NRL when there's so much else going on, and the locals avoid all hype and noise altogether. 

 If the NRL wants to get Americans excited, it needs to go somewhere with easily exciteable Americans, and America has hundreds of sizeable towns and cities with easily excited populaces.

You want these people.

Just find a city with a big stadium, no NFL franchise, and a strong local media market, and put on a double header there. Give children free tickets. Host a sausage sizzle tailgating party. I guarantee you the locals will feel absurdly flattered to be so singled out, and lose their easily exciteable minds. 

 I've actually identified a few strong contenders per the above criteria, but won't list them here because 1. I don't want death threats from residents of said metropolises outraged at my implication that they are not sophisticated, discerning cultural aficionados, and 2. I'm not giving the NRL something for nothing. You want me on board as an advisor, I want business class tickets to the city you decide to go with, and accomodation for the big weekend (no need for game tickets unless the Knights are playing), as well as a week in a five star hotel in LA after so I can recover from my time amongst the rubes. You can afford to send most of the Sydney Morning Herald and Channel 9 to Vegas, you can afford me - even though there are a few of the Australian media pack we wish you'd left there. 


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