A Look At The Split Between The AMNRL and USARL

I’d heard the talk, heard the rumours, but it wasn’t until yesterday that things came together in regards to the split within the game of Rugby League in the United States.

In one corner you have the games traditional governing body, the AMNRL, run by David Nui. In the other corner, the newly formed USARL which consists of the vast majority of top level Rugby League clubs in the United States.

Basically, the clubs have split from the governing body and started their own competition.

Now before I get into the nuts and bolts of this split, I want to make it clear, I don’t have a horse in this race. I can see the point of view from both sides.

The split has happened, so lets look at it in a bit of detail:

A Natural Process
These type of splits are a very natural part of American sports. Just about ever major sporting competition or league in the United States has gone through a period where there was a split in the game.

Sometimes it is a new upstart like the ABA trying to find a market to challenge the stronger and more established NBA. Other times it is just two competitions that have built up side by side, like the American Football League and the National Football League.

What they all have on common is that, eventually, both sides agree to meet, they thrash out differences, and they merge. The game sorts out a few issues during this process and after a number of years, most agree that the game is better off for the heartache it went through.

The Issues
My understanding is that the clubs are basically unhappy with how things are being run. They want more of a say in the way the games administration in the United States is structures and they want a say on who is in charge.

The clubs feel like they have been made a lot of promises by the head of the AMNRL, David Niu, and they are not happy with the outcomes.

Making the decision to split from the AMNRL is a huge call. The clubs have basically put their money where their mouth is and feel as though they can run things better on their own.

Because the break away USARL has the majority of clubs and a couple of new expansion teams in their corner,they basically have the upper hand in the short term. They will be able to start the season as they normally would. They have the “content” to sell to potential sponsors or media backers, they have the club infrastructure to attract players and at the end of the day, they will be running the top grade Rugby League competition in the United States.

The AMNRL And Their Standing Right Now
Its pretty hard to be the governing body of a competition without many clubs, but I can see where this is probably going to go.

The AMNRL has been very involved in trying to start up expansion of the game in the westen United States. Traditionally the stronghold of the game in America has been in the east, but new clubs are being formed in the west and I think what we will see is the AMNRL focus on that and get things up and running.

It’s not quite starting from scratch, but its pretty close.

The advantages the AMNRL have are pretty big, and I wonder if they have been a bit underestimates by some.

The AMNRL is seen by the international community as the governing body of the game in the United States. With World Cup qualifiers coming up, the AMNRL has a pretty handy bargaining chip.

Will USARL sided clubs allow their players to play for the AMNRL at international level? I’d be shocked if they did. Still, there will be a lot of blokes right now knowing that if they sided with the AMNRL, chances are they get a trip to England to play in the 2013 World Cup.

The AMNRL is also still the gateway for the game as far as the rest of the world is concerned and David Niu is still the spokesman for Rugby League in the United States.

Perception is reality as they say, and if everyone else in the game still considers David Niu to be in charge….then he’s still in a very strong position.

Are USARL Club Strong Enough To Stand On Their Own
In my opinion, its 50/50, and I don’t say that because I don’t think the clubs are strong, because they are.

The issue is see is that, the USARL clubs have gone out on their own and in the process severed some ties. That is a dangerous gamble for any minor sporting competition, let alone one with no media profile in the country it is established in.

Keep in mind, USARL can’t go out, pick up a TV deal and guarantee a major revenue stream. They also have to start certain things from scratch. They will have to explain to sponsors about this split and when you are talking about sponsorship at this level, some sponsors just might not be bothered after hearing whats happened.

Another issue I see is that, what a sport is so small in such a shut out market, you need a champion of the cause. You need a figure who people can rally around, who is driven to push the game forward and who will go into every meeting with a potential sponsor offering the greatest sport in the world.

Right now USARL doesn’t have that. They are a group of clubs, we know their cause, we know why they are doing this, but we don’t know who’s in charge.

What USARL Should Do Right Now
I think the first think USARL needs to do is find their leader and put him out in front of all this. This man will be elected by the clubs (One of the reasons the clubs split, they wanted a say in who was running things) and he needs to build a profile very quickly.

I’d be using Youtube a lot. Press releases are alright for hard facts, but they are cold and hard for people to relate too. If you had the head of the USARL on Youtube though, addressing players and fans, talking about the issues they have, talking about their plans over the next few months and then talking to club owners in regards to why they made the decision to form the USARL, it would be a very smart move that would give them a profile they desperately need.

Another thing I think they need to do is play it a little conservative in regards to expansion and general plans for the future. The next couple of years should be about consolidating their strength and not over stretching themselves.

Last but not least, they need to apply to the RLIF and try and set up, if not official links, at least a dialog with the games governing bodies. I’d even go as far as to get in touch with the NSWRL, QRL, WARL and the like to open those doors and let people know that if there are potential players in Australia looking for a lifestyle change on the back of the sport, the USARL is there for them.

David Niu 
I’ve been around long enough to have heard a lot of hot air and bullshit from various places that suggest the game is going to be set up in a country and its a roaring success. If it wasn’t for David Niu, just about every single one of those promised expansions of the games would have been non existent.

I’m willing to say that without David Niu’s drive, his passion for the game and his constant work, Rugby League would not exist in the United States.

Its has not been a smooth ride, but that is the reality of setting up and keeping alive a small sport in a market that is a complete shutout as far as media, profile and sponsors go.

David would be the first to say, its two steps forward, one step back. Things have been tried, some have worked out, other have failed. For every bit of positive news, there has been a setback, but that is what any administration of the game is going to face when trying to establish a sport.

Niu has opened doors for the game in the United States, he has established links that didn’t previously exist. On his watch Rugby League in the United States has gone from no where to a real alternative as a semi professional competition for players.

In these situations when a sport has split, there are always going to be reasons both sides don’t like the other. However I’m watching this unfold and I can’t imagine the game in the United States having a better champion of the sport than David Niu has been over many, many years.

He’s the type of bloke who would happily start from scratch again and not lose an ounce of passion for what he is doing. Clubs can have their issues with how he runs things, but at the end of the day, at this level, passion, dedication and non stop effort is 99% of what the job is about.

On that account, you can not fault David Niu.

What Does The Future Hold For Both Sides?
I think what we will see is the AMNRL will go out and focus their efforts on establishing the game in the western United States.

The USARL will basically be business as usual, they will run their competition.

Eventually I think we’ll see both sides come back together, possibly with a two conference system in place. There will be agreements in regards to how the administration is structured, who is accountable, how people are elected to certain positions and how transparent processes within the game are.

The two big questions I have are, how will this all effect the United States World Cup qualifying campaign, and, are USARL clubs committed to a future in Rugby League no matter what, or, would they be open to talks with Rugby Union clubs to form or merge competitions should things get a bit tough.

I don’t think it will get to that though. I think this split won’t last very long because both sides will see that the game in the United States needs to be pulling in one direction.

On the verge of a a very interesting time for Rugby League in America, this split will have a big effect on the game. In the long term it will make the game stronger, but it will have to go through some heartache to get there.

I hope that in a few months time the AMNRL and USARL can hold talks, if not to merge, then at least to keep lines of communication open. Even as split entities, I think both sides can still help one another for their own benefits, and for the benefit of the games future in the land of opportunity.

Either way, Rugby League in North America has some interesting times ahead.

The Fight become a founding club in the USARL: http://www.fightrugby.com
AMNRL Official Web Site: http://www.amnrl.com/
USARL Official Web Site: http://www.usarugbyleague.com/

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