London Irish is set to break new ground for the Premiership, the top division of rugby union in England, by taking a home game to New York on March 12.
London Irish will take on reigning Premiership champion Saracens at the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena, the home of Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise New York Red Bulls. The initiative between the club and Premiership Rugby, the governing body of the league, will mark the competition’s first competitive match played overseas.
Rugby union is claimed to be the fastest growing team sport in the United States and the announcement today (Tuesday) is the latest move by the sport to tap into the market. Taking place amidst the build-up to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in New York, London Irish said its ‘home’ game will also aim to be a celebration of Irish culture for the many thousands of first, second and third generation Irish people living in the region.
London Irish chief executive Bob Casey said: “This is an enormous opportunity for London Irish and a chance for our club to gain exposure in one of the biggest sporting cities in the world. The New York region has a significant Irish community and is renowned for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so it’s the perfect time for our club to venture into this market.
“Rugby is set for an exciting time with Rugby World Cup 2015 reaching its final stages, the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games, and now the first ever Aviva Premiership fixture in the USA. We are well placed to capitalise on these exceptional opportunities to create a lasting legacy for both rugby and London Irish. We intend to continue to be at the forefront of the development of the game in the USA.”
Today’s announcement comes after Premiership team Harlequins in September agreed a strategic partnership with USA Rugby, while the national governing body entered into a similar agreement targeting the commercial growth of the game with its English counterpart, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), in July.
Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, said: “This is a significant day in the history of Premiership Rugby and one that has taken a number of years and a lot of hard work to bring to fruition. Premiership Rugby is the most competitive league in world rugby with a fast-growing following outside England and we are delighted to stage a competitive match in the USA.
“There are ambitious plans to grow the game in the States and this is the latest stage in that strategy. I’d like to thank both London Irish for their support and vision in making this bold step as well as Saracens and our partners; The Legacy Agency Inc and USA Rugby. We firmly believe this will be a great success and will showcase live Aviva Premiership Rugby to a new audience.”