Australian rules football in the United States

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Australian rules football in the United States
USAFL Logo.jpg
Country United States
Governing body USAFL
National team United States
Nickname(s) US Footy
First played 28 September 1996, Cincinnati
Registered players 2,000 (total)
1,000 (recreational)
Clubs 28
National competitions
Audience records
Single match 14,787 (1990). Melbourne v. West Coast (Civic Stadium, Portland)

Australian rules football in the United States is a fast-growing team and spectator sport which has been played domestically in the United States since 1996.

There are numerous leagues around the country, a national championship, a national men's team, a national women's teams and a national youth team. There are also women's teams, junior teams, modified Australian Football games and non-contact versions such as Austag.

History[edit]

The first mention of Australian rules football in the United States was an article in the New York Times featured "Australian Game of Football is the Best" on October 23, 1910, which mentioned a tour of Australia by the Columbia Park Boys' Club, a USA schoolboys side from San Francisco which played matches against teams from Sydney.[1]

A struggle to tour regularly between the two countries, especially after World War I and a general lack of exposure and the popularity of American Football in the states ensured that the game of Australian Football remained virtually unknown in the United States for many decades.

Emergence from obscurity[edit]

In 1947, games of Austus, a compromise game between Gridiron and Australian rules were played in Australia between servicemen of both countries in the Australian city of Geelong. The visiting Americans were reported to be excited by the Australian game.

Exhibition matches[edit]

From the 1960s, several attempts were made to kickstart Australian rules interest in the United States. Between the 1960 and 1990s, Victorian Football League exhibition matches were played in major US cities.

Year Location Stadium Teams Crowd
1963 San Francisco, California Geelong vs. Melbourne 3,500
1988 Miami, Florida Joe Robbie Stadium Collingwood vs. Geelong 7,500
1989 Miami, Florida Joe Robbie Stadium Essendon vs. Hawthorn 10,069
1990 Portland, Oregon Civic Stadium Melbourne vs. West Coast 14,787
2006 Los Angeles, California Intramural Field, UCLA Kangaroos vs. Sydney 3,200

In 1965, former Victorian Football League player Colin Ridgeway was recruited by the Dallas Cowboys and played a total of 3 games as a punter. Although he was the first Australian to make such a transition he did not have much of an impact in the NFL.

1980s – television and ESPN[edit]

Television was the biggest breakthrough for Australian football in the United States. In the 1980s, sports channel ESPN began televising Australian Rules matches.

The first American born player in the AFL, Don Pyke (who moved to Western Australia in his youth) debuted for the West Coast Eagles in 1989 and later that year, the first African-American born player Sanford Wheeler debuted for the Sydney Swans.

1990s – punt into America[edit]

In 1995, Darren Bennett – former Melbourne Football Club player was recruited by the San Diego Chargers. He went on to become one of the most successful punters in the history of the NFL. His popularity as an ex-Australian also considerably increased the awareness of Australian Rules in the US, as excerpts of him kicking goals in the VFL were sometimes shown on American television. Since Bennett, other Australian rules players have followed, having a small effect of exposing the Australian game to Americans.

Against the flow, Essendon Football Club coach Kevin Sheedy enticed former Oakland Raiders National Football League player Dwayne Armstrong to switch codes to Australian rules. The experiment was largely unsuccessful, with Armstrong not debuting at senior level, but nevertheless created media interest in Australia about the possibility of American athletes playing the Australian game.

See Also List of Australian rules to Gridiron Converts

First local games[edit]

The first match between two local US clubs was played in 1996 between Cincinnati and Louisville.[2] In the first year the Mid American Australian Football League was formed. Many of the local players had found out about the game in the 1980s on television and ESPN. Although the local game grew, ESPN no longer broadcast AFL matches, and in response the lobby group AFANA was formed.

In 1997, the first club national championships were held in Cincinnati. Nashville hosted the first Australian Grand Final Festival in the same year. The United States Australian Football League (USAFL) was formed in 1997 to govern the code in the country.

New millennium – international representation and steady growth[edit]

A national team, the Revolution, formed in 1999 to compete in a European event, the Atlantic Alliance Cup before concentrating on events closer to home. The USA turned to competing against nearby Canada in the 49th Parallel Cup and was for a time coached by AFL legend Paul Roos. This Cup is an annual and keenly contested international event which both countries use as a guide to their progress and as preparation for the International Cup, the world cup of Ausrtalian Football.

In the same year, a record crowd of 1,000 attended an MAAFL match between the Nashville Kangaroos and Chicago Swans at Nashville in Tennessee.[citation needed]

In 2001, the first college Australian rules club began in Vanderbilt University In the following years, several new clubs emerged in universities across the state, many of them affiliated with USAFL clubs.

The Revolution competed in the 2002 Australian Football International Cup with an All-American side and finished fifth out of eleven countries.

In 2002, the Australian Football League began to recognise the potential of the USA as a pool of talent and began providing a small amount of international funding to the USAFL. An offshoot was the US Footy Kids junior program, with strong similarities to AFL Auskick.

In 2003, clear weather at a Nashville homegame against the St Louis Blues and Kangaroos saw the match set a new league crowd record.[3]

In 2005, the Revolution attended the 2005 International Cup finishing third out of ten countries. The first College Invitational was also held that year, hosted by Vanderbilt University and won by [University of North Carolina].

In 2005, the USAFL struck a deal with the ASTN television station for rights to the game, however although the station has filmed local matches, they have not been televised.

Also in that year, Ben Graham joined the New York Jets, bringing media exposure for the Australian sport. On a multi-million dollar NFL contract, Graham joined with the local New York Magpies club in fundraising activities.

In January 2006, an AFL promotional pre-season match was played in Los Angeles at UCLA between the Kangaroos and league premiers the Sydney Swans, it attracted a crowd of 3,200.

Saverio Rocca debuted in the NFL in 2007 as a punter, bringing media exposure for the Australian game.[4]

Kevin Sheedy and Stephen Silvagni visited in 2007 on a tour of North America as AFL ambassador, attending the USAFL Nationals.[5]

The AFL returned to the ESPN banner in 2009, with replays and occasional live matches, including the Grand Final, appearing on the ESPN360 internet service. Several home-and-away games, plus the Grand Final, also air live on ESPN2.

Notable Players in the VFL/AFL[edit]

Governing body[edit]

The governing body for Australian Rules in the United States is the USAFL.

National team[edit]

The national teams are the USA Revolution and USA Freedom.

Major tournaments[edit]

Domestic representative tournaments[edit]

Participation[edit]

In 2004, there were 855 senior players in 38 active clubs.[6] By 2006, the league had grown to 40 affiliated clubs, with 1,048 were registered USAFL players and 340 USAFL sanctioned matches were played. Of the 709 players who competed at the USAFL National Championships, 77.4% were non-Australian, and over 60% were American.[7]

The 2007 AFL International Census did not indicate any growth to these figures over 2006.[8] The club numbers decreased to 32 in 2011, but player registrations remained at approximately 1,000.[9]

Leagues[edit]

Men's[edit]

Women's[edit]

See also Metro Footy Leagues

Former leagues[edit]

Aussie rules in U.S. schools[edit]

College Aussie rules[edit]

High school Aussie rules[edit]

Formation senior clubs[edit]

As yet, not all geographical regions in the US are represented by clubs. Many clubs, in the formative stages are looking for players in order to compete in the USAFL National Championships or field Metro leagues. The advent of the Internet has greatly facilitated the growth of the sport in the United States.

Cities State Club Name Website
Charlotte North Carolina
Columbus Ohio Columbus Light Horse Australian rules football Club [11]
Rhode Island/Connecticut [12]
Billings Montana Billings Bulldogs

Audience[edit]

Television[edit]

Since 2006, due to growing demand and lobbying by the AFANA, Australian rules began playing live matches on television in the United States. Australian rules has a nominal but growing international audience. According to Roy Morgan Polls 7,496,000 North Americans watch Australian rules football at least occasionally on television.[13] This number is twice as many as watch the sport on television in Australia, but tiny by US standards.[citation needed]

  • USAFL – All Sports Television Network (ASTN)
  • AFL – ESPN360 www.espn360.com {contact local broadband internet service provider to subscribe}, MHz Networks

Attendance records[edit]

Local competition[edit]

Exhibition matches[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]