What I learned from Philadelphia

Enjoy your holiday they said as I exited the office off on my second adventure across the Atlantic for BT Sport.

Holiday – pah! Far from it.

The usual hard sell to convince my colleagues that I am not in fact going on holiday – work will be the number one priority – in a 30 degree, sunny, Philadelphia.

Premiership Rugby have taken the game state side for the second time in two years, and whilst it’s an exciting venture – if the first time was anything to go by, its expensive, a logistical nightmare and bloody hard work. I can’t wait!

Not to say I’ve drank the cool aid but I love the idea of growing rugby in the USA – an untapped resource – but also for a very selfish reason that one day I would love to work in the states ideally on Rugby Union. With the recent announcement that NBC are now looking to broadcast the Six Nations it does appear that a demand exists for our sport.

So I’m off – I pop via the office at four in the morning to finish off a VT for the show before hauling my very groggy arse to Heathrow. Spying Paul Yoshida, BT Co-ord extraordinaire, at the self-check in baggage counter where our next 30 minutes were spent trouble shooting British Airway’s worst idea since the concord.

So eight hours, three films, three coffees and a 2 hour nap later we touch down in the land of the free and the home of the hoagie, Rocky Balboa and even stealing a reference in the opening line of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air sound track. Yep - Philadelphia.

My first experience of this East Coast city involved driving the hire car over the Schuylkill River, with gangster rap on the radio as chosen by Nick Mullins for its authenticity whilst we tried to work out the pronunciation of said river for Saturday’s commentary. Needless to say we felt in the thick of it.

Excitedly turning up at our city centre hotel we dumped our belonging and called an Uber – our only evening off and god damn we were going to make the most of it.

The Philadelphia Phillies are Philadelphia’s once decorated two time Baseball World Series winners, since their last tile in 2008 they have been experiencing a bit of a dry spell and although returning some more respectable results this season, this would later lead them to firing team manager Pete Mackanin.

Did we really care? Of course not. Beer in hand and Paul Yoshida for vague guidance on how the sport is played we headed into the heart of Citizen’s Bank Park for a crash course in American sport. What a night.

So skip forward a GV shoot, captains run, some insanely long and pointless meetings culminating in a very underwhelming College Football match – it was game day.

I’m not going to sit here and sing the praises of a match that by all accounts was a flop. The match was a boring one, the attendance was poor and the atmosphere was pretty much non-existent. It served to highlight the vast gulf that rugby has to climb to make a viable and sustainable mark on the USA.

But is that the fault of Premiership Rugby – HELL NO. They are about the only people concerned with tapping into this USA resource, every initiative has to begin somewhere and they are starting something.

Was the location ideal, probably not – there is no footfall in the area, its 40 minutes out of town and for the travelling fan, flights to Phillie are extortionate so it’s not a long weekend away.

Could the game have been promoted further? Well potentially, but with coaching clinics happening up and down the breadth of the country, NBC pushing the fixture on national television, PR opportunities within week - without a severe influx of financial aid to spend on country wide marketing I’m not sure what else could have been done.

It comes down to money at the end of the day.

What they are doing, through coaching clinics and scholarship programmes is educating a whole new generation of Americans about the sport who will grow up to become players, coaches and fans. They are dipping a toe into the vast ocean that is dominated by traditional American sports – and until the hints that Pro14 decide to expand their league stateside become a reality, they are the only institution in our field to do so.

We should be doing our upmost to aid and promote, where we can, as Rugby Union attempts to extend its traditional reach, if for nothing else, then the love of the game and the desire to see more competitive leagues in more areas of the world.

On that note, we kicked off in Philadelphia alongside our partner broadcasters NBC. An interesting experience to say the least as American broadcasters have very different workflows and different roles compared to a UK outside broadcast.

For me, the first oddity came in the form of the ‘red cap’. He or she is a Floor Manager – kind of – who is used to calling and timing time outs and stoppages in play for the adverts to be rolled. I almost had a heart stoppage myself when he suggested stopping match play halfway through the first half. He was a lovely man and by the end of the afternoon he walked away with far more rugby knowledge than anyone need know when they cover the sport once a year.

Yoshida found himself directing a team of twelve (give or take) camera men regarding the style of shot required from each camera, how to offer TMO angles and when to follow match play and when to offer up additional material – all part of the day job.

Honestly the whole day was such an amalgamation of skills it was laughable. I think ticked my AP box, Floor Management box, Reporting box and Stage Management box across the four days we were abroad. Nothing like multi-tasking eh!

So here is my point, I promise I will eventually make it.

Don’t be critical, support undertakings to grow our sport. Take chances – like my ability to juggle an amalgamation of job roles. Importantly learn new skills, new sports, (and new camera angles) – like our American friends at NBC. You’ll never know what can be achieved until you try – like our friends at Premiership Rugby and their endeavors in America.

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