Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
I read a nice article this morning from the Houston Chronicle about the coming of Major League Rugby and the Houston Strikers. I have heard rumblings of this sort before and it seems it is well on its way to becoming a reality. I remember when I was in college at The University of Saint Thomas here in Houston there was an intramural rugby team that was fun to watch, but it seems I underestimated the popularity of the sport as a whole. I know Houston is a transient city, evidenced by the hordes piling into The Maple Leaf Pub for hockey games and BBVA Compass Stadium for international soccer matches; but have we now moved into the era where the lesser known global sports make their way into our sports lingo? As an Irish American I would love to see professional hurling or maybe our large Indian population would love to see cricket. I guess only time will tell.
Major League Rugby is a continuation of the efforts of clubs across the country who have participated in various forms of professional play in organizations like USA Rugby. There are championships played among smaller groups and there are already existing leagues in other parts of the U.S., the question is: can they all be united into a national professional league that will be able to draw enough fans to become a viable alternative to the big four of American professional sports? I’m not quite sure about it simply because after 22 years, Major League Soccer is still not making headway. It’s nice that with the decline of baseball, the issues with the NBA regular season, the regional popularity inherent in hockey and the turning away from violence in football soccer has become an alternative, but its numbers are still not there.
Maybe the similarity to football without its most violent aspects will create the same level of excitement but there will have to be plenty of marketing and a solid product on the field. Maybe the announcement now will give Americans unfamiliar with the rules time to study the game. Maybe ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will begin airing international games during regular viewing hours. I think it would take something like that to create more interest. As it stands, the inaugural season slated to start in 2018 will be popular only to the existing rugby community.
Another strange item about all this is the fact that they have decided to place the stadium in Pearland off Highway 288 South at the Houston Sports Complex. Teams always want their own stadium but if I was just starting out I would try and maximize my audience by playing in a more central location like BBVA Compass Stadium. Its proximity to Minute Maid Park, The Toyota Center, and several bars would make it easy for curious spectators to find their way into the seats for a sport they’ve never seen live. It would take a lot for me to be interested in driving that far to watch one of their matches and I doubt I’m not the only one.
But hey, it’s another sport for Houston to get excited about like the inaugural season of the Houston Dash just a few years ago. The more sports we have the more we can forget that the Astros, Rockets, and Texans are all still struggling to win championships. If you listen to Fred Faour and A.J. Hoffman on The Blitz then you know they love “What are the odds?” questions. Here’s one for you: What are the odds the Houston Strikers will win a championship before the other major Houston sports teams? I would put the odds tentatively at 20%.