Alan Rothenberg has watched soccer’s popularity surge in the United States in the 16 years since he co-founded Major League Soccer. Now he’s betting American fans are ready to accept yet another European sport: rugby.
Rothenberg, a prominent L.A. attorney and banker, joined with other investors in Grand Prix Entertainment LLC to buy the American National Rugby League this month from a private operator for undisclosed terms.
The league is the U.S. sanctioning body for one form of rugby with 13 players on each side. Its 19 teams come from big and small cities – Aston, Pa., and Chicago have teams, for example, although Los Angeles does not – and play a summer schedule, often in public parks or on high school fields.
Grand Prix, an L.A. company, already owned the American sanctioning and broadcast rights to another type of rugby – with seven-player teams – that will hold tournaments at Carson’s Home Depot Center in 2014.
“We think rugby is the next new sport, so to speak,” said Rothenberg. “This acquisition is part of a whole program of accumulating all the rugby rights under one roof so they can be properly commercialized.”
William Tatham, founder of Grand Prix Entertainment and a former owner of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz, said the acquisition will help rugby avoid the fate of other failed sports leagues by giving all forms of rugby one governing body.
“We don’t like competition,” he said. “I want to be the one that survives.”