Steve Lansdown, majority shareholder of Bristol Bears, is exploring the possibility of investing in the burgeoning USA rugby market to enhance his club’s brand.
With America’s recently formed Major League Rugby set for expansion from nine to 12 clubs in 2020, Lansdown has revealed why he believes following the model of Manchester City is the way forward if club rugby is to succeed globally.
City Football Group currently has stakes in New York City FC and Melbourne City FC, as well as clubs in Japan, Uruguay, Spain and China.
Whilst Lansdown’s initial interest centres on America, he views rugby’s future world-wide potential as unlimited.
Lansdown told TRP: “Interest is being raised and we’re exploring what might be out there. The reality is that as a business there are opportunities in America that we’re looking at, not just in New York but right across the country with what’s happening in MLR.
“The future of rugby is on a world-wide basis and we need to be part of it.
“There’s two aspects to this: one, from a player recruitment aspect it provides an opportunity to give your own developing players opportunities to play in competitive leagues while tapping into their growing pool of players; and two, you can develop your brand because American clubs will become significant players in the market in coming years.”
Lansdown added: “MLR is a bit like Major League Soccer when it started; you’ve got local players with some older or lesser known guys from abroad. But I’m sure, as it develops, some of the bigger names will go there and the whole profile of the league will grow.
“We’ve seen in football how Manchester City have tied-up with New York and it helps them in terms of developing a global business and promoting their brand.
“We’ve come a long way in a very short period of time and the Bristol Bears rebrand has helped us take a big step up. But it’s our aim to keep promoting and developing it and, who knows, you could eventually expand into Canada, Asia and South America.”
With a successful return season in the Premiership almost concluded, Lansdown is pleased with how the Bears are tracking after many years spent in the wilderness.
He said: “First things first, our biggest project at the moment is to get our new training ground finished and then any rugby club around the world will look at Bristol Bears and know we’ve got a first-class training facility to go with the first-class ground we have.
“They’ll hopefully look at the Bears as being one of the top-class outfits in rugby – after that, we can take our intellectual property to other areas of the world.”
Bristol Bears are not the first Premiership club to establish ties abroad. The Saracens Global network was established in 2013 and extends to nine countries including Brazil, Georgia, Tonga, Malaysia and USA, where Seattle are their partners.
Harlequins, meanwhile, have established roots in California and have affiliate clubs in Kenya and Abu Dhabi, while Leicester’s global partnerships operate in Belgium, India, Italy and Malaysia, where the Kuala Lumpur Tigers are well established.
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images
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