Q & A with Matt Bailey (Brooklyn Kings)
Matt Bailey is founder of the Brooklyn Kings Rugby League Club and a board member for the USARL.
The Brooklyn Kings joined the USARL in 2014. How did you rate your first season overall?
Our first season exceeded so many expectations. We were competitive in every game on the field, including coming closer than anyone to the champs, the Philadelphia Fight (lost by 8). But more importantly, off the field we’ve built a strong brand and a tight brotherhood who are there for each other for footy and life in general. In saying that, I look back to 12 months ago and realize how far we’ve come in a short time. We can’t wait to show everyone how much bigger and better we are.
It’s always difficult building a club from scratch and putting together a new squad. What were the biggest challenges? What did you learn?
Our biggest challenge has been engaging the local community. Sport is such a saturated market here in New York that it’s been tough to get the locals on board. But it’s early days – it’s happening slowly but surely. It’s a team effort – partners like Sixpoint and Kent Ale House are huge in the engagement of Brooklyn and New York. For example, this year Sixpoint have a bus taking fans from the game to our post match event at Kent Ale House. These are the types of initiatives we need to continue to implement.
The new season kicks off on 30th May 2015. How is your preparation going? And what would constitute a successful year for the Kings?
Our preparation has been incredible so far. Like I said earlier, looking back a year we barely had a logo, let alone a team out on the pitch. We’ve been in pre-season for over a month now conditioning and building our skill set. Last year we went into round one with 75% of our guys never playing a game. This year is a different story. We’re miles ahead as far as preparation goes.
You took last year’s MVP, Odain Brown, on a development tour of Australia at the completion of the season – a fantastic initiative. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
This was made possible by our partners the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation, JG Construction and Go Flow Concreting. We saw this as a great opportunity to tell the Rugby League community what we’re doing abroad, but also inject one of our local players into an environment where people live and breathe Rugby League. It was an amazing month and we achieved a lot in that time, including meetings with the NRL and Sydney Roosters. No doubt Odain will take what he learnt and apply that this season.
Will the development tour run annually? And do you see it evolving?
We’re on track to implement another development opportunity, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be Australia again. We have a strong relationship with the Castleford Tigers, as well as a pending announcement with an NRL team in the coming weeks, so we might leverage those contacts for another opportunity for local players. Right now, our focus is the 2015 season ahead here in the USA.
You’re also a board member of the USARL. At a competition level, what were the key achievements in 2014 and what are your goals for 2015?
I think the key achievement in 2014 was recognition from the RLIF as the governing body of Rugby League in the USA. This is huge – groundbreaking and super exciting for all of us here on the ground. No doubt this will result in our biggest year yet on a local and international front. Our goal for 2015 is first and foremost a successful local competition with multiple additions to the league, as well as a big international push towards the 2017 World Cup with friendlies and qualifiers happening this year. Stay tuned for details.
With the dissolution of the AMNRL, you’ve absorbed 4 new teams. What does that mean for the league?
This means a united league for the first time in many years, and the resurrection of teams like the Connecticut Wildcats and New York Knights who have been absent from Rugby League for a while now. From a Brooklyn perspective, this is super exciting for us, with the chance to nurture local rivalries which will be great in attracting fans and growing the game.
Are you planning further expansion? Could we see a western division in the next few years or is the focus on consolidating the east coast?
There are already development teams in place in states such as Texas and as far West as Los Angeles. Hopefully we’ll see these locations grow into USARL top tier teams. We’re doing all we can to support these areas. No doubt, with the RLIF recognition and a charge towards the World Cup, we’ll see funding start to flow and areas such as those mentioned given more opportunity to flourish.
Which players should we keep an eye on at the Kings? Who is set for a big year?
Odain Brown is a big one to watch out for. He played most of last season with an unknown broken wrist. He’s had surgery and in recovery mode as we speak. Another is big Danny Quispe. This guy’s commitment is incredible. He played his first game less than a year ago, and has been in beast training mode since. He’s dropped 20 pounds and is leaner, meaner and stronger. I can’t wait to see him unleashed.
What is your message to anyone out there who wants to get involved with rugby league in the USA?
My message is to reach out to your local team and get involved. This summer is massive for Rugby League in America, and with World Cup qualifiers coming up, get out and show us what you got – who knows, you might find yourself representing your country as a result. And you WILL find yourself with a new network of brothers. Bring on USARL Season V!
This Q & A is sponsored by Rugby League Network