Former NFL star Todd Gurley says Las Vegas is the perfect place for the NRL to launch its season and is confident Americans will support the concept, which he expects will “grow organically” just like the gridiron’s expansion in 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 sell-out crowd of 65,000.
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Bringing rugby league to America could open up huge gambling opportunities there, as tens of millions of fans can watch the historic clash, which will be shown in prime time on Fox Sports 1.
Ticket sales have been strong so far, and Gurley says the allure of Vegas will make it the perfect excuse for locals to head out for the weekend for something new.
“I’ve seen it on Instagram and social media and that’s pretty much how you reach yourself now,” the former Rams running back said in Coogee as part of his tour of Australia, where he attended the NFL Flag National Championship.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been hearing about it more and more.
“I feel like in America we’re a bit last minute so people will be like ‘I heard the rugby league is on so I’d better get tickets.’
“I feel like it’s definitely going to sell out because it’s in Vegas and it’s a great place to put it.
“It 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, run-down stadium.”
The key for NRL officials is that this is not a one-off sugar hit that loses momentum as soon as the teams return to Australia in early March.
Gurley, who scored 79 touchdowns before retiring, said the NRL’s trip 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 in 2007 and the sport’s popularity has grown significantly, with three games in London this year, two in Germany and a long-term commitment to hold more high-profile games there in the future.
Gurley admits most Americans recognize 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 everyone, but I’ll speak for everyone in the United States when I say we don’t know what AFL is, but we know what rugby is,” said Gurley, who played for the Rams in Super Bowl LIII .
“But I think the rugby we know is rugby union.
“We’re a bit behind with the NRL but that’s why you have these games. This is why the NFL also plays international games.
“We go to places in Europe where football is what we call football, but maybe we make a difference by taking games there and showing them our football.
“You have to start like that (with Vegas games). You go there every year and it will grow naturally.
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, now you know it’s been added,” he said, confirming he would not be coming out of retirement to represent the hosts.
“We’ve been doing the Olympics for over 100 years, but new things like this can (bring in new audiences), just like the NRL.”