It’s Time to Take Notice Ft. A Conversation with Pardon My Take’s PFT Commenter
With the help of major broadcast partners including CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN, Major League Rugby has continued to reach new audiences in season three. Along with new audiences, there are longtime rugby fans that have been waiting for the game to take off in North America for a very long time. One of those longtime rugby fans includes “Pardon My Take” co-host, PFT Commenter. Major League Rugby checked in with PFT for his take on the growth of rugby in the U.S. and why he’s excited about where it’s headed.
PFT Commenter of Barstool Sports’ is a unique character.
When he’s not co-hosting Pardon My Take, the sports satire podcast that has been a mainstay at the top of the charts of podcast providers everywhere since its inception, he’s watching rugby. Various publications have dubbed the podcast the best in sports media because it regularly features some of the biggest guests in sports and pop culture. During the HSBC Sevens circuit, it also features PFT’s weekly updates on the United States men’s sevens team.
PFT is a rugby guy. As you’ll come to learn, he played at James Madison University and then continued his rugby career with the Austin Huns after relocating to Texas. As a big World Rugby Sevens fan, he’s made trips to Las Vegas and Hong Kong for their respective legs of the HSBC circuit. With his attention being pulled in so many different directions, the successes of the first three seasons of Major League Rugby have caught his eye. Having played rugby in Austin, he’s paid attention to the Austin team over the years. Because he hails from the Washington D.C. area, he tweeted his approval of Old Glory D.C.’s signing of South African Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira to just over 684 thousand followers while also mentioning it on his Sirius XM trivia radio show “Big If True”.
In recent months, PFT has also hosted Mark Cuban who wanted to talk about the trajectory of the MLR now that George Killebrew has taken over as League Commissioner. Killebrew and Cuban worked together for many years at the Dallas Mavericks.
Barstool Sports has also had Patriots players Nate Ebner and Patrick Chung stop by to discuss their involvement with the New England Free Jacks. Ebner and Chung have recently become part-owners of the Free Jacks, and are becoming big parts of the team to help promote the growth of the MLR.
He’s a clever guy and a big figure at one of the fastest-growing sports media companies in the United States. He proclaims himself an ‘ideas guy,” and I was curious to hear his opinions about both the state of North American rugby and Major League Rugby. A rising tide lifts all boats, so for him to pay attention to rugby in any manner is great for the sport in North America.
As you’ll read below, he talked about everything from how gambling will change the sport to his relationship with commentator Dallen Stanford, to much more in our Q&A below.
How did you get into rugby?
“I probably got into rugby the way that a lot of people I know in the United States got into it. I played football in high school and wasn’t good enough to play in college. I had some friends that were already on the team that kind of recruited me. They knew that I could kick the ball well. They took me out to one of their games, one of their parties, and the first time I actually got on the pitch, I was immediately obsessed with the game. I became hooked on it. It was the most fun that I’ve ever had playing a sport even when I didn’t know what I was doing right off the bat. I just kind of stuck with it through college and then I played some club level as well.”
What position did you play?
“I played scrum-half, outside center, and a little bit of wing but mostly outside center and scrum-half.”
What’s your familiarity with the MLR?
“I’m a little bit familiar with it. I didn’t watch many of the games last year, but I know a little bit about the league and some of the guys that I used to play with moved onto some MLR stuff. I’m pretty psyched to see them. I saw a couple of games with the Austin Elite [now Gilgronis] and it was cool seeing them out there, but I didn’t follow the league or anything that was really going on besides one or two games.”
What do you attribute the recent growth of rugby in North America?
“I would say that it’s 50 percent the success of the sevens team and 50 percent having Dallen Stanford on all of those calls that make it on social media because he’s an electric dude. I think the sevens team has a lot to do with it. USA Rugby has done a pretty good job I think at starting to realize how well their clips can do on social media and getting that out to a wider audience. It’s great seeing world class athletes play on that team and not just very good athletes that happen to play rugby. Not just world class athletes that are starting to learn the sport, but actually seeing world class that know the sport and they look like they’ve been playing it their entire lives. Whether that’s Perry Baker or Danny Barrett, we’ve got some great, great players that are so much fun to watch play and I think that when people give it a shot and watch a game, they’re going to come back and watch it again because it’s a great product. The U.S. is really, really good at it. That’s been very encouraging.”
As gambling becomes regulated around the United States, what will that do for rugby?
“The more that you can bet on, the better. It would be great if we could bet on all these rugby games. I think that that would be nothing but positive for the sport. The only real thing that I could think might stand in the way would be the Vegas line setters might not be knowledgeable enough about the teams to want to get into the business of setting lines for them. The more that you can bet on a sport, the more popular it’s going to become in the United States. That’s just always how it’s going to go.”
You bang the rugby drum at Barstool but what do your coworkers think about the sport? Have you gotten any of them to jump on the train?
“We’ve got a couple of people here that really enjoy rugby like Zah. He’s a big rugby fan. He loves the All Blacks. Kate used to play college. She’s awesome and she’s a big fan of the sport. I think the more people that watch it, the more people will start to like it. I took Feits (John Feitelberg out to Las Vegas a couple of years ago to go see the sevens and he really enjoyed it a lot. The more live events that we can get them to, the better because they’ll see what an absolute party it is….The more we can get them out there, I think the more they will come around to the sport…. I might try to get Hank (Lockwood) really into it this year. Here’s what we do, if we just send Hank a lot of stuff, he’ll just start to wear it all the time. Here’s the key. Do you want to know what the key to getting Barstool Sports into rugby like full steam ahead is? Have Nate Ebner actually play meaningful minutes because then Hank and Dave (Portnoy) will have no choice but to pay attention to the New England Patriot that’s playing in these games. We’ll see about the Olympics this year. If Nate Ebner is able to score a couple of tries in the Olympics early on, I think that it will be very easy to persuade Hank and Dave to start pulling for the U.S. rugby team.”
How close do you think North America is to really embracing the sport?
“There is still a lot of work to be done because there are so many other sports that are all competing for that attention…..In order for rugby to become a major talking point in U.S. sports, I think we are four or five years away from that. The reality of it is that it’s not a pipe dream anymore. It’s definitely attainable if we continue to play the way that we are playing. Back in 1994 when the U.S. had the soccer World Cup, it’s not like saying soccer is going to be the biggest sport in America now where you’re just saying something and hoping that it’s true. The reality is that the results are there. It can become true if our high-level teams can compete on a competitive basis and win championships in the next couple of years, I think that will go a long way. Then the question becomes what do we do about fifteens? I think fifteens is still a sport that’s going to grow organically. It’s massive, but it’s not going to appeal as much to people that don’t have any history of being around the sport. That’s a tougher problem to solve. I think Major League Rugby is definitely going to help.”
What is your background with Dallen Stanford?
“Dallen and I met on the practice field down in Austin. I don’t even know if he remembers this, but it was probably about 2009 and he was training with the Huns while I was on the team. I had just come out for the first time and we were playing touch to get warmed up for practice and I put step on him and got around him for a second. He said as he was getting faked out, he goes, ‘Oh, that’s a brilliant step you sleek racing snake.’ As he was saying that, he gained like four steps on me and immediately touched me. I had just gotten around him and he’s making a joke as he’s tracking me down in half a second. He’s so good. He’s just been around the team for a while and I saw him on occasion when he’d stop into town to play for us like once a season or so. Once he started getting on the broadcast, I was paying attention to that. He was born to be behind a microphone.”
PFT Commenter regularly talks about rugby on his Twitter account, linked here. Keep an eye on his social channels for his input on the growth of rugby, and fans should be sure to send him tune-in reminders for the MLR.
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