By Julian Clarkstone
All photos: Davey Wilson
The United States is a nation renowned for loving Gridiron, Basketball and Baseball, with many other sports helping to create a congested sports market. When you look at a sport such as Rugby League in the United States with a few hundred participants, it begs the question, how can you grow the game? Some people may be completely unaware that former NRL star, Jarryd Hayne is not the only person with the capacity to grow the game of Rugby League in the country.
Large sporting organisations have access to sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting and more. So how can a small organisation gain access to these concepts to increase their potential? Thoughts for Sports spoke to Matt, Bailey, the CEO and co-founder of one of the newest Rugby League teams in the USA, the Brooklyn Kings. The Kings have been around for just two years, made the playoffs in their division in 2015, have an increasing sponsorship family, have a cheers squad (Brooklyn Royals Dance Team) and they are getting strong traction on their Facebook and Twitter pages. The Kings are leading the way for Rugby League clubs in the USA and are a great example for other teams to follow.
USA Rugby League is the governing body of the sport, and they were the best qualified to help the Kings achieve their short term goals of entering the competition. Naturally the goals of both parties married up, where the next priority of both parties became getting the players for a team to begin competing.
“We were walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and we said, “Hey, let’s start a new team.” The first thing we did was reach out to USARL and expressed interest to form a team.”
The first obstacle after that is to generate interest to form a team. Without the widespread knowledge of rugby league in America, creating interest from the ground up is the only way to go. Some teams in the USARL competition have approached athletes with similar skills that they have applied in American Football or Rugby Union. The Kings have focused on word-of-mouth as a key tool to encourage new participants, so their players have gotten involved in the recruitment process.
“For us, it’s been all about word-of-mouth. American boys experiencing it for the first time, then bringing their friends along because they love it so much”.
Just as crucial as recruiting players is improving their skills, which is where coaching comes in. Matt Bailey and the Kings were very active in attaining high quality coaches, including former NRL and Super League player, Nick Youngquest.
“It all started with Martin Fairhurst , who heard about one of our start up meetings in 2013. Then we found Nick Youngquest via Twitter. And finally, this year we’ve added Brent Richardson (pictured right), who has Rugby League in his blood with his father being a top NRL Executive.”
In their short time since inception, the Kings have effectively used the skills of people within the organisation to take on various roles.
“The coaching team take care of all player and on-field matters. I am the primary lead for marketing although I regularly meet with coaches to brainstorm ideas and leverage relationships they may have. We are a super transparent team and always looking to progress.”
Nick Youngquest’s link with Super League side, the Castleford Tigers has had a profound impact on the Kings’ exposure not only within America, but globally as well. Both teams now have a branding partnership which has proved to be mutually beneficial.
“Right now we are just leveraging each other’s fan bases. Castleford fans love us and support us by purchasing merchandise. You’ll see most engagement on our social media is from Castleford fans. In a similar vein, Americans who are being introduced to rugby league for the first time are becoming Castleford fans which is great. We hope to build on this partnership next season.”
Matt Bailey has experience in sponsorship and strategic partnerships, so he took on the task of gaining sponsors which are vital for the longevity of the team.
“Sponsorship is something I tackled head on. The Kings partnership family has grown to include Sixpoint Brewery, Kent Ale House, the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation as well as new partner such as Riviera Produce.”
Now that the groundwork is in place for the Kings, they are in a position of setting higher goals for themselves. The next objective is to go further in the 2016 playoffs, but to also grow their squad size, build on their partnerships and to have their players achieve improved results at an individual level, possibly representing the USARL Hawks.
“We had a couple of boys (Shaun Chowdhury, Phil Hammack and Tone Rodriguez) make the USARL Hawks prelim squad, a first for us.”
The Kings don’t have the luxuries afforded to professional sporting teams as of yet, but they are certainly off to a good start since their establishment in 2014. Using the skills of their players and staff, looking to expand their brand and focusing on having a committed group of players has allowed them to have the success that they have had. They are a great example for rugby league clubs not only in the U.S., but around the world where rugby league is looking to gain exposure.