|Australian rules football in the United States|
|28 September 1996, Cincinnati|
|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 team and a national youth team. There are also women's teams, junior teams, modified Australian Football games and non-contact versions such as Footy 7s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|1963||San Francisco||Geelong vs. Melbourne||3,500|
|1988||Miami||Joe Robbie Stadium||Collingwood vs. Geelong||7,500|
|1989||Miami||Joe Robbie Stadium||Essendon vs. Hawthorn||10,069|
|1990||Portland, Oregon||Civic Stadium||Melbourne vs. West Coast||14,787|
|2006||Los Angeles||Intramural Field, UCLA||North Melbourne 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.
Television was the biggest breakthrough for Australian football in the United States. In late 1979, the brand new ESPN cable network signed its first international TV contact with the Victorian Football League (in 1990, it became the Australian Football League). Coverage began with the 1980 season with matches airing on late Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes live but usually one or two week tape delayed. At the time, reports indicated ESPN paid the VFL nearly $100,000. Coverage continued on ESPN until 1986, when the sport was dropped. This exposure on ESPN is credited with creating a generation of fans in the United States and providing the foundation for the formation of AFANA and the USAFL in 1996. The founding of AFANA led to the first organized fan group for the sport outside Australia and lobbying for television coverage was part of the efforts to grow the sport from the beginning. The core of the initial players for the USAFL included many who first saw the matches on ESPN a decade or more earlier.
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.
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.
The first match between two local US clubs was played in 1996 between Cincinnati and Louisville. 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.
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 Australian 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.
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.
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 multimillion-dollar NFL contract, Graham joined with the local New York Magpies club in fundraising activities.
|Player||Connection to United States||VFL/AFL Years*||VFL/AFL Matches*||Notes|
|Don Pyke||Born in US to Australian parents||1989-1996||132||Moved to Australia at age 4, played with the West Coast Eagles, 2 time AFL Premiership player|
|Sanford Wheeler||Born in US to US parents||1989-1994||43||Moved to Australia at age 5, played with the Sydney Swans|
|Dwayne Armstrong||Born in US to US parents||1996-97||-||Former college footballer recruited by Essendon Football Club, played at reserves level|
|Shae McNamara||Born in US to US parents||2010-2012||-||Former collegiate basketballer, played with Collingwood Football Club in VFL (AFL reserves) and pre-season competition|
|Alex Starling||Born in US to US parents||2012-||-||Former collegiate basketballer, recruited on Sydney Swans International scholarship|
|Jason Holmes||Born in US to US parents||2014-2017||5||Former professional basketballer played senior AFL games with St Kilda Football Club|
|Mason Cox||Born in US to US parents||2015-||20||Former NCAA Division I basketballer, now professional Collingwood Football Club player|
The national teams are the USA Revolution and USA Freedom. Both are the sole national teams for Australian football in the United States and are administered by the United States Australian Football League.
In 2004, there were 855 senior players in 38 active clubs. 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.
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.
|Columbus||Ohio||Columbus Light Horse Australian rules football Club|||
Since 2006, due to growing demand and lobbying by AFANA, Australian rules began playing live matches on television in the United States on the new Setanta Sports USA network. Coverage in 2015 is on Fox Sports 2 and Fox Soccer Plus.
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. This number is twice as many as watch the sport on television in Australia, but tiny by US standards.