Jacksonville wins Super League America's headquarters

(By Mya M. Borger from the Business Journal: Serving Jacksonville & Northeast Florida, 12/10/99)

Super League America, a professional U.S. rugby organization, is establishing its national headquarters in Jacksonville in conjunction with an expansion to the Southeast.

The league chose the Southeast because of the opportunities for development, the talent from the colleges and rugby clubs and the strong grass roots movement in the area, said Steve Gormley of Jacksonville who was appointed president of Super League America earlier this month.

Gormley is also marketing director at Lincoln Financial Advisor's in Jacksonville, which does financial, estate and benefits planning.

Super League America tapped Gormley and Jacksonville because of his previous marketing work with the Jacksonville Jaguars professional football team and Orlando Magic professional basketball team.

Gormley will continue in his position with Lincoln Financial, which is the sponsor of next year's rugby World Cup and sponsored the recent qualifying tournament in Orlando.

The league also has an office in Philadelphia where David Niu, the executive director, works.

Gormley is negotiating a lease in Orange Park off Wells Road and hopes to be in the league's headquarters by the first of the year. The office will staff about 10 people and will add more employees as the league grows.

Gormley said a few Jacksonville professional athletes and business executives want to begin talking about owning a rugby franchise with the league immediately.

Super League America plans to expand into 10 Southeast cities including Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, and several cities in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, Gormley said.

The Southeast expansion will create the league's second division, and after it's completed, the league plans to add two more divisions in the West.

Niu brought professional rugby to the United States about six years ago, and Super League America was created in 1997. There are six teams in the Northeast division.

They are the Glen Mills Bulls in Pennsylvania, the New York Broncos, the Boston Storm, the Philadelphia Bulldogs, the New Jersey Sharks and the Pennsylvania Raiders. Those teams combine to form an international team, the American Tomahawks, which competed in the qualifying tournament held in Orlando.

Rugby is also played professionally in Europe, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, Russia, Morocco and Japan.

Super League America, the only professional rugby league sanctioned in the United States, plans to draft collegiate athletes who do not qualify for professional teams in other sports but fit the mold of a rugby player. Rugby players typically can run for 80 minutes at a stretch and average 175 pounds.

"We hope to match up to the NFL one day" in popularity, Gormley said, but added, "It will take a long time to match them."

The rugby season runs from April to August and does not conflict with National Football League games.

Gormley said that businesses in Europe have been calling him at least three times a day, eager to know more about the league's expansion. He has also had over two dozen players call seeking a chance to move to Jacksonville and play rugby.

The European rugby marketers have wanted to enter the United States for a long time and begin selling the game and merchandise, Gormley said.

A London merchandiser and a Jacksonville merchandiser are discussing the possibility of having the league sell their merchandise on the Super League America World Wide Web site.

Niu wants to increase the visibility of the league to educate Americans about the sport. Gormley is discussing with ESPN2 the possibility of coverage of the American games.

Rugby is played with 13 players on the field who have six attempts to score. There are two 40-minute periods with a 10-minute half time. The game is played on a football size field. The players do not wear padding.

Gormley is looking at several Jacksonville college and high school fields. He does not see the league using Alltel Stadium for a Jacksonville team, although it might be a site for an international event.

The International Federation of Rugby will send developmental people, referees and others as needed to help the league's new division get started.