Crowe wants a Vegas play-off
Brad Walter, Sydney
November 27, 2010
SOUTH Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe has proposed an expanded World Club Challenge competition involving the top four teams from the NRL and Super League be played in the United States at the end of the season.
Crowe believes such a tournament would provide the dual benefit of promoting the game in the US, while creating a potential new revenue stream for the code from international broadcast rights.
The Academy award-winning actor told The Age of his proposal in an email from Tokyo, where he is promoting his latest movie The Next Three Days, and predicted the competition could become the rugby league equivalent of football's Champions League.
''I have in mind that rugby league can create in America the same type of opportunity that the Premier League has in Europe with the UEFA and Champions League competitions,'' Crowe said.
''Instead of focusing on the World Club Challenge where two teams play at an inconvenient time for both the NRL and ESL there could be a competition that takes place soon after the NRL grand final on American soil whereby the top four teams from the NRL and ESL gather in a place like Las Vegas, and they play a tournament that decides the world champion.
''Two pools of four - two NRL [teams] and two ESL [teams] in each - to decide a final four and then, of course, the final match to decide the winner.
''One of the truly exciting aspects is giving a second chance to the teams who got close in their home competition but didn't win. Over time you would seek to increase the teams in the competition, drawing teams from the top of the AMNRL, PNG, French and NZ club competitions.
''With effort it may well become a financial boon for the clubs involved, as Europe represents for English soccer clubs. With expansion of TV that is happening world wide I think there is a good chance of having multiple suitors for broadcast rights in the USA and other territories.''
Crowe said he first thought of the concept when the Rabbitohs played Leeds in Florida during a pre-season match two years ago.
The match attracted a record crowd of 12,000 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville and Crowe suggested other teams return the following season.
''The only way the USA will be excited by rugby league is to see it played with the best players,'' Crowe said.
''The game has a foothold there through the hard work of people like [AMNRL boss] David Nui and [Jacksonville Axemen founder] Spinner Howland, but much more needs to be done to bring it to the attention of the football-loving public there.
''Rugby league is so easily explained to NFL fans because of its defined periods of offence and defence [six tackles = four downs], an affinity that rugby union just doesn't have. The USA is a huge football market and the pace, impact and excitement of rugby league is very attractive to the typical NFL and college football fan.''
He said Las Vegas was the ideal venue to stage a tournament because it ''has the infrastructure to accommodate and entertain fans and players alike''.
Club bosses champion Crowe's Las Vegas spectacular
November 29, 2010
SOUTH SYDNEY chief executive Shane Richardson plans to raise club owner Russell Crowe's proposal for an expanded World Club Challenge in the United States at the NRL's annual end-of-season conference, which starts today.
With an independent commission due to take over the running of the game from News Ltd and the ARL on December 7, club chief executives and chairmen will be encouraged to discuss opportunities for the game, and Crowe's suggestion already has widespread support after being outlined in Saturday's Herald by the Academy Award-winning actor.
''It is something Russell and I have been discussing for some time and I intend to bring it up at the conference,'' Richardson said.
Officials from other leading NRL clubs told the Herald yesterday they were keen to discuss the proposal at the two-day conference in Byron Bay, while Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan has already backed the concept of an eight-team end of season tournament in Las Vegas. Wigan will host St George Illawarra in the WCC final on February 27 but Lenagan said he would gladly give up home advantage in future if Crowe's plan for the top four teams from the NRL and Super League to play in an expanded competition were viable.
The Rabbitohs co-owner believes the tournament could eventually become the rugby league equivalent of football's Champions League and provide the dual benefit of promoting the game in the US and creating a potential new revenue source from international broadcasting rights.
If the tournament had taken place at the end of last season, it would have involved the Dragons, Sydney Roosters, Gold Coast and Wests Tigers from the NRL and Super League teams St Helens, Leeds and Huddersfield, as well as Wigan.
''I think anything that can provide greater exposure for our game, new opportunities for our game and increased revenue for the game and the clubs has got to be beneficial and should be investigated a lot further,'' Roosters chief executive Steve Noyce said. ''The world is getting incredibly closer and there are a lot of opportunities opening up because of that. You have only got to look at what has happened in cricket in the past five years with the IPL [Indian Premier League].''
Titans boss Michael Searle said: ''If it generates another marquee TV product and is well funded by TV I am 100 per cent supportive. It is better for players too as it is only a 14-hour flight as opposed to a 24-hour flight.''
The Dragons only confirmed their participation in next year's WCC last Friday after moving the annual Charity Shield clash with Souths to February 13 and the scheduling of the match in February made it unfeasible for Wigan to accept an offer to play in Australia as the Super League season is already under way.
''I am certainly interested in concept improvements,'' Dragons chief executive Peter Doust said.
Lenagan was enthusiastic in his support for the proposal. ''It's an intriguing, exciting idea and exactly the sort of thing we should be doing to tell more people about our wonderful game,'' he told The Guardian.
''I have been arguing for a couple of years that our best club sides could compete with the best from Australia and New Zealand, and that the World Club Challenge should be extended. The American dimension is something I had not considered … It is certainly worthy of serious consideration and I hope it is given that.''
Players in both competitions also expressed their backing for Crowe's plan via Twitter, with Wigan and former Tigers star Pat Richards posting a link to the Herald's story and the message: ''How good would this be''.
Tigers and Australian winger Lote Tuqiri tweeted ''not a bad idea, just have to make sure the Tigers finish top four'', while new Parramatta recruit Chris Walker said: ''I love what [AMNRL boss] David Niu and Russell Crowe are trying to do for rugby league in the US. Get behind them … league will be massive in the States … we have the product to sell over there … get [NRL CEO] David Gallop on board''.
You may hate the guy but you can't deny his passion for the game. The only downside I can think of is it will be played around the same time as the four nations so that will have to be moved, or scrapped altogether. It can only be a good thing to have extra money coming in from US TV and sponsorship as well as merchandising, though it may take a couple years for that to take full effect. The only way of expanding the game of Rugby League to other countries is to actually take the game and show them how good it can be and the best way of doing that is by sending the best teams over, not just a once off game every 10 years. If the NRL were smart they would of taken advantage of the media attention that the game between Leeds and the Rabbitohs got in the US and looked at something like this in '08. It still may take a couple of years for this to happen, but I'm all for it, if it's done right and not just rushed into half assed and that they stick with it even if the first year isn't a total success..