The USA has become rugby’s white whale in recent years – the massive untapped market that the sport is just on the verge of cracking. Whether that’s true or not, rugby is on the rise in the States, as evidence by the creation of PRO Rugby – the first professional league in US history.
PRO Rugby’s inaugural season consists of five teams, each based in a different US city, and named rather plainly after said city or the state in which they’re based. The first of these teams we’re looking at is the San Francisco club.
All five PRO Rugby franchises have similar basic jersey designs, with the PRO Rugby logo on the left breast, supplier logo on the right, and the team name in block letters across the chest. It’s an interesting and unconventional way of doing things for a rugby shirt, but we don’t think it looks bad – it’s almost reminiscent of the way basketball and football jerseys often display their team name in that location, and it adds a unique US spin to things.
The supplier logo is probably unfamiliar to you, and for good reason – Champion System is a new name to the rugby world. The company has expertise in pro cycling and triathlon, but this is their first professional rugby contract, and you have to say they’ve done a decent job with the San Francisco home jersey.
It’s hardly revolutionary, but it works. The black raglan sleeves are a nice contrast with the deep red of the body, and we really like the black-to-red fade on the side panels. The half-collar with the white strengthening tape is cool too, and makes it feel very much a rugby jersey.
The change shirt is just as nice, with a simple palette swap working very well again, perhaps even better – indeed the colours chosen for the San Francisco team are an extremely effective combination. And that’s not a coincidence.
People have rightly been critical about the lack of a unique identity for the PRO Rugby teams so far. It’s understandable, but the truth is that creating new sports brands takes time, and there simply wasn’t enough of it to do so for all five teams in the short turnaround between the competition’s announcement and its kickoff.
Instead, PRO Rugby has opted to play the first season with this rather utilitarian vibe, with the plan being that at the end of the season, the clubs will work with their fans to create proper unique brands for each city.
That’s not to say that these San Francisco shirts are devoid of any identity, however, as the club’s colours are a deliberate nod to two of the Bay area’s existing sporting superpowers– it’s two NFL franchises. That mix of red and gold is a clear nod to the San Francisco 49ers, while the their rivals over the bay, the Oakland Raiders, are none more black.
Champion System’s idea to link these new rugby teams to an area’s existing sporting history and identity is a smart, and may well serve to further integrate them into the local sporting landscape once the team names and branding is decided.
It’s early days for PRO Rugby, and there’s plenty of time for the league and its teams to correct any missteps they’ve made. Despite our initial misgivings however, if would appear that Champion System can certainly make a decent rugby shirt – at least in the case of San Francisco…
UPDATE: The San Francisco PRO Rugby team name has been chosen, so the team are now known as the San Francisco Rush – keep an eye out for a proper club badge and branding from next season.