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Positive reaction to London Irish's move to play Aviva Premiership game in US

Published 27/10/2015

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty has hailed a ground-breaking venture that will see London Irish play Saracens in New York later this season
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty has hailed a ground-breaking venture that will see London Irish play Saracens in New York later this season

London Irish chief executive Bob Casey says there has been a "positive" reaction from the club's supporters to a ground-breaking Aviva Premiership home fixture being played in New York.

Irish and Premiership Rugby announced on Tuesday that the Exiles will tackle reigning Premiership champions Saracens at the 25,000-capacity Red Bull Arena - home of Major League Soccer team New York Red Bulls - on March 12 next year.

It is the first Premiership fixture to be played overseas, and heads to the United States, a country where rugby union is currently the fastest-growing team sport, which was underlined by a 61,500 crowd watching last November's Test between America and New Zealand in Chicago.

A concept of playing the so-called "39th game" outside of England appeared to be an option for Premier League soccer in England seven years ago, but opposition from supporters proved a key contributory factor behind it never happening.

Irish, though, have no doubt that the venture will be a success, with the Premiership encounter taking place just five days before St Patrick's Day and New York having a considerable Irish population.

The Saracens squad, meanwhile, includes United States captain Chris Wyles and his World Cup colleague, lock Hayden Smith.

"It has been a long-time in the planning, and throughout the whole process we have considered our supporters in all of this," Casey said. "We are very excited for the London Irish family.

"I think the reaction from the supporters is positive.

"We didn't include one of the fixtures in the season ticket package, and we communicated to our supporters that we were looking at taking one of our Premiership fixtures away from Reading.

"We are looking at putting a package together for our supporters, and they will also get a 10 per cent discount on match tickets.

"It (United States) is the biggest sports market in the world, and rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in America.

"You have got to tie that up with the Irish community in America, particularly in New York, and we just feel it is a great opportunity and a great fit for London Irish Rugby Club.

"Taking a Premiership fixture to New York is huge, and there is a lot of work on all sides to make sure we put on a great show."

Tickets for the game will go on general sale later this week, while Irish are currently exploring supporter travel packages combining flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Packages will be available with and without match tickets. The fixture is not part of Irish's season ticket arrangements.

England play Wales at Twickenham in the RBS 6 Nations Championship on March 12 - Ireland also face Italy that day - and Casey added: "The kick-off time is going to be pretty important.

"But there is a great opportunity around the time zone and the fact it is a Six Nations day, so there could be a real feast of rugby for that day.

"In terms of television, nothing has been finalised, but you would have to imagine it would be live on BT Sport, and we are in negotiations with it going coast to coast in America as well.

"We will take one game away this season. We will come home and play Gloucester in our St Patrick's Day fixture (March 20), and we want to make that the biggest and best it has ever been.

"For now, we have no more plans, but what we will always do is we will communicate with our supporters and our stakeholders exactly what we are doing, so that they don't get any surprises. They are joining us on the journey.

"There is a lot of excitement and positivity around the fixture. A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes, and we just want to make sure we make it a success now."

Irish's biggest Premiership home crowd at the Madejski Stadium last season was just over 15,000, with a low of 5,575 when Sale Sharks visited Reading. The corresponding Saracens fixture last term attracted a 6,665 attendance.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said: "This is a significant day in the history of Premiership Rugby, and one that has taken a number of years and a lot of hard work to bring to fruition.

"Premiership Rugby is the most competitive league in world rugby with a fast-growing following outside England, and we are delighted to stage a competitive match in the USA.

"There are ambitious plans to grow the game in the States, and this is the latest stage in that strategy.

"I would like to thank both London Irish for their support and vision in making this bold step, as well as Saracens and our partners - The Legacy Agency Inc and USA Rugby."

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