IRFU chiefs to explore possibility of adding Real Madrid and Barcelona to the PRO12
With the Guinness Pro 12 in need of more TV revenue, talks are underway about adding new franchises from untapped markets to the league.
The Pro12 lagging behind the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 in terms of TV revenue is beginning to have a negative impact on Celtic teams' ability to compete in Europe.
One solution to this growing issue may be adding franchises from other territories, particularly the US, where the popularity of rugby has been growing exponentially.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne believes that this is a viable option, but only if it is developed properly.
"We can do what is needed to get a franchise up and running pretty quickly," Browne told the Irish Times.
"So, that’s what we are looking at. If we are going to do this, we are not going to do it on the basis of putting together a half-baked team. What we need is a good team working in a market that has commercial opportunities for us."
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The whopping 61,500 crowd that packed into Soldier Field for the match between New Zealand and USA Eagles in 2014 along with the success of the American domestic rugby union league prove that the market for rugby in the States is deep.
However, because of the nature of sports broadcasting in the country, Browne is aware that a very tactical approach to selecting an American franchise for the PRO12 will need to be implemented.
"In some markets, national broadcasting in the US is not where the money is. It is local broadcasting. So you have to pick the right city."
"But there are plenty of people in the US who are interested in rugby and its opportunities and they are interested in getting involved. We have to look at these opportunities."
The possibility of adding more European clubs is also being looked into. Browne highlighted franchises with successful teams in other sports, such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, as potential locations for new PRO 12 teams.
"Professional sport is not a strange thing in places like Spain, Germany, Netherlands."
"Real Madrid has a rugby club, as does FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad. So we must explore all those opportunities as well."