‘We’re a little bit behind’: Former NFL star confident rugby league can become a hit in America

Video todd gurley going to play

Former NFL star Todd Gurley says Las Vegas is the perfect spot for the NRL to launch its season and is confident Americans will support the concept that he expects to “grow naturally” just like gridiron’s expansion into Europe.

Next year’s NRL season will kick off on March 3 at Allegiant Stadium with the Sea Eagles taking on the Rabbitohs before the Roosters and Broncos do battle in front of what Gurley says will be a sold-out crowd of 65,000.

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ARL Commission chair Peter V'landys is doing everything possible to ensure the Las Vegas experiment succeeds. Picture: Supplied
ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys is doing everything possible to ensure the Las Vegas experiment succeeds. Picture: SuppliedSource: News Corp Australia

Taking rugby league to America could open up huge gambling opportunities over there, while tens of millions of fans could watch the historic double-header that will be shown in prime time on Fox Sports 1.

Ticket sales have been strong so far, and Gurley says the lure of Vegas will make it a perfect excuse for locals to head away for the weekend for something new.

“I’ve seen it on Instagram and social media, and that’s pretty much how you get your outreach now,” the former Rams running back said in Coogee as part of his Australian tour where he attended the NFL Flag National Championships.

“Me being over here, I’ve been hearing about it more and more.

“I feel like in America we’re a little bit last minute, so people will be like ‘I heard the rugby league is on so I better get some tickets’.

“I feel like it’s definitely going to be sold out because it’s in Vegas and that’s a wonderful location to put it in.

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“That gives rugby league fans and everyone else an excuse to go to Vegas. It’s a new stadium, so it makes sense to play there because you don’t want these guys playing in some old, rundown stadium.”

A crowd of 50,144 saw the Colts play the Patriots in Frankfurt earlier this year. Picture: Alex Grimm/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

The key for NRL officials is that this isn’t a one-off sugar hit that loses momentum as soon as the teams head back to Australia in early March.

Gurley, who scored 79 touchdowns before he retired, said the NRL’s voyage to North America could be similar to the NFL’s decision to grow the game in Europe by taking games there.

The NFL launched its international series in the UK back in 2007 and the sport’s popularity has grown considerably, with three matches in London this year, two in Germany, and a long-term commitment to take more high-profile games there in the future.

Gurley concedes that most Americans recognise rugby union over league, but a long-term strategy in the region could change that, with former players and celebrities encouraged to share NRL highlights on social media to help grow the game.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m going to speak for everybody on behalf of the United States when I say we don’t know what AFL is, but we do know what rugby is,” said Gurley, who played for the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

“But I think the rugby that we know is rugby union.

“We’re a little bit behind with the NRL, but that’s why you have these games. That’s why the NFL plays international games as well.

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“We go to places in Europe where football is what we call soccer, but maybe we’re making a difference by taking games there and showing them our football.

“You’ve got to start like this (with the games in Vegas). You go over there every year and it’ll grow naturally.”

Gurley expects rugby league to become more popular in the States. Picture: John McCoy/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

He also sees a link between the NRL going to America and the Olympics introducing flag football for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

“It automatically raises eyebrows. Even if you’ve never heard of the sport before, you now know that it’s been added,” he said, confirming he won’t be coming out of retirement to represent the hosts.

“We’ve been doing the Olympics for more than 100 years, but new stuff like that can (bring a new audience), just like the NRL.”