Pro 12 plans American expansion by bringing USA teams into cross-border league

 
Joe Hall
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London Irish v Saracens - Aviva Premiership
English Premiership Rugby teams Saracens and London Irish met in New Jersey earlier this year (Source: Getty)

American rugby clubs could soon compete alongside teams from Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Wales in an expanded Guinness Pro 12 tournament.

The cross-border European rugby tournament could expand to East Coast US where the league believes a sizeable diaspora of European rugby fans could support the tournament.

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Pro 12 officials believe expanding to America would lead to a boost in commercial revenue and insist long travel distances would not pose a logistical issue.

"It is something we are looking at as part of our plans to grow the league," chairman Gerald Davies said at the Pro 12 launch.

"There are sizeable Italian communities there, as well as Irish and Scottish, and as long as increased travel costs are met by an increase in sponsorship, we have established it would be viable logistically."

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Originally known as the Celtic league and featuring the top teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales such as Leinster, Connacht and Glasgow Warriors, the league became the Pro 12 after expanding to Italy in 2010.

Yet more expansion across the Atlantic would raise further questions over the competitive balance of the league following criticism of Italian teams' performance.

Treviso and Zebre have propped up the league for the last two seasons, prompting calls for them to be kicked out of the competition.

Yet with no existing professional clubs on the East Coast, American teams would be unlikely to fare much better at first, despite the rugby's growing popularity in the country.

As one of America's fastest-growing sports, rugby stakeholders have earmarked the US as a potential growth market.

USA Rugby sanctioned the country's first ever professional league last year and is expecting further interest in its sophomore season on the back of Olympic sevens tournament raising the game's profile, while clubs and international teams from England, New Zealand and Australia have all staged friendlies and even league games in the country in a bid to win over stateside fans.

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