Inside the Deal: How Wigan Warriors secured Super League’s historic Las Vegas trip

Aaron Bower
Kris Radlinski

It all started, as any good deal does, after a few glasses of wine and a chance email.

Kris Radlinski was, like the rest of rugby league, tuning in with anticipation to see how the NRL’s historic first double-header in Las Vegas would unfold. There was trepidation around the world but as it almost instantly became clear it was going to be a success, Radlinski knew one thing: he wanted in.

For several hours across that Saturday in March, Radlinski plotted out exactly how he could nudge the door open – not just for Wigan Warriors, but for Super League as a whole. And later that evening, after a couple of drinks, he took a chance.

“The morning the games were on, I watched it and it just felt big,” Radlinski tells Love Rugby League. “It felt different and I spent most of the day thinking about it, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

“It might sound a joke, but I wrote an email to Peter V’landys there and then, whose idea Vegas was. And I just explained we’re an ambitious club and I’d love to be part of the project. It was that night, literally that night.”

Within 24 hours, V’landys had replied with what Radlinski was hoping to hear: there was interest from Australia about allowing Super League to join the party in 2025.

It has taken months and months of planing and preparation – and has not been a deal that was struck simply overnight, despite reports emerging weeks ago Wigan and Warrington had signed off on an arrangement.

Such is the complex nature of Super League participating in the NRL’s flagship event, there were a plethora of hoops to jump through.

“We didn’t sign the deal until six days ago,” Radlinski reveals. “That shows you everything that’s gone into it and what there is to consider.

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“From everything to TV arrangements, the kick-off times to suit all parties and everything down to the balls we use and the post protector pads!

“It feels like a big, important moment for the sport. We’ve all got a role to play here. That’s the players putting on a show, the administrators putting on something for fans, the fans turning up and the media writing great things about it. If we all do our roles it might take us to a really good place.”

With Wigan opening the door for Super League, the next question for Radlinski to ponder was: who would they play? Many assumed that would automatically be their biggest rivals in St Helens but Radlinski insists there were several reasons that made choosing Warrington a ‘no-brainer’.

“I never considered who else would come with us at the start, it was just me who wanted to play there and nothing else,” he admits. “But then you think about who you’d take. I’ve worked with Simon Moran on a concert project for eight months and I’ve learned so much from him.

“Fitzy (Karl Fitzpatrick) is an ideas man, we meet everything single month and put it in our diaries and talk about the challenges and ideas in the game. To work alongside him was a big factor for me.

“Then there’s the Sam Burgess effect and when you look at it all, it’s a no-brainer for them to take part. It was brilliant to work with them at Wembley too. We’re very close as clubs, we’re rivals on the field but have a great relationship off it.”

It is a deal which is hugely exciting for Super League – but one that it is not without risk for Wigan as a club. They are forfeiting a home game which, despite the glamour that comes with Vegas, risks upsetting a section of their fanbase, who will lose a game off their season ticket next year.

Radlinski has drawn up plans to counter any backlash from that but admits the possible pros simply outweighed the cons from Wigan’s perspective.

“It’s a financial risk. There’s a gamble there,” he says. “It’s a home game of ours, there’s two competition points and we’ll have to refund our fans one game out of their season tickets.

“We’ll lose some match revenue and hospitality but that’s a gamble my owner was prepared to take. I’ve got a revenue share in place that will allow us to cover both clubs’ travel, so we’re preparing properly.

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“There’s a lot that goes into it and we’re going to be busy but I’d rather be busy doing this. We’ve got a wonderful opportunity to redraw the limits of what we think is possible.”

Radlinski will drum the message home to all of Wigan’s departments to potentially counter that financial gamble and ensure Wigan not only turn a profit commercially and in areas like retail, but open the club to new opportunities like never before.

The scale of the production that Super League’s fixture will get, given how it is on the NRL’s billing, is also fascinating: “How it’s presented on TV will be a big thing.

“We’ll get the full treatment from Fox; a typical Sky game has a 12-camera production but this will have 22. It’ll be insight like you’ve never seen before. It will deliver. The players will deliver, I guarantee everyone around the world that.”

And with the NRL locked into a five-year commitment to play games in Vegas, there is the opportunity for Super League to be permanently part of the equation if all goes to plan next March. That would enable other clubs to potentially reap the rewards in years to come.

Radlinski admits: “We all want Super League to grow and we are flying the flag for the competition but hopefully other clubs will feel the desire to go out and do something pretty wacky and pretty different.

“I can’t overstate how big a moment this is for rugby league.”


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