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Major League Rugby ready to launch in the US

Working Class Rugger Roar Guru

By Working Class Rugger, Working Class Rugger is a Roar Guru

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    So it’s been a while since I last posted anything. Life’s been unbelievably busy this year but I have a gap so have decided to jump back into the swings of things by introducing you to Major League Rugby.

    So, some may recall the advent of PRO Rugby in late 2015 and inaugural (and only) season in 2016. Well, that’s go the way of the dodo. A failed experiment that lacked the necessary parts to become a sustainable model. An apparent step forward before two back.

    But from its failure, rises a new player. One that’s been working away to bring its own brand to market since later 2015 itself.

    That player is Major League Rugby.

    Formed by a number of private interests linked to in some cases existing clubs and run as its own separate league organisation established to administer the league’s operation.

    Based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Major League Rugby is looking to take the next step. Establishing a sustainable professional rugby (union) league that allows local players and fans alike to enjoy the great game of rugby at a level never before seen at the domestic level in the United States.

    The inaugural season will feature seven teams. The Houston SabreCats, the Utah Warriors, the Seattle Seawolves, the San Diego Legion, the Glendale Raptors, the New Orleans Gold and Austin Elite Rugby.

    These form seven of the nine foundation organisations within the league. The other two, the Kansas City Blues and the Chicago Lions, have both opted to enter in its second season in 2019.

    So what’s the overall difference? Well, the first is money. In order to compete each team is required to be able to provide a $2m bond for the first season. Alongside that, they need to able to demonstrate the ability to meet these obligations for at least three seasons to come.

    Finally, they all need to be able to build their own stadium facilities. The minimum first season capacity being 4-5k but with Houston, Austin, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans and all with plans to develop 10k seater stadiums. The Warriors have secured primary tenancy at a brand new stadium being built for Real Salt Lake Academy (Major League Soccer) in Salt Lake.

    Planning is so advanced that most of the clubs are well into their preseasons preparations and have scheduled games starting in January with the inaugural 13 week season kicking off in April of next year.

    But there’s more. Both Kansas City and Chicago won’t be the only teams entering in 2019. In all likelihood there will be another three to join them. At the very least. Rugby Club New York, the Ontario Arrows and potentially a Boston group are all on the books.

    With Boston Rugby Club recently announcing the development of their purpose built $25m facility with a 5k seater stadium and with access to another new 15k stadium being built just down the road.

    But there’s more. There’s serious talk about a Vancouver group looking at bringing a MLR team to the city in 2019 and there exists a group keen to bring professional Rugby back to the city.

    It’s all quite exciting.

    However, the most interesting tidbit is this last one. They have a TV deal. A real one. Earlier this week the League signed a two year multi-platform broadcast deal with CBS Sports.

    As part of this deal the league will have 13 games broadcast in the first season including ten ‘game of the round’, two semi-finals and the Championship game. These games will feature on CBS Sports TV channel, via their channels on several major streaming services including Hulu, and on the CBS Sports app.

    As the league grows. So will the number of games. With a reach of 57m homes (in terms of TV) it provides a solid launching pad for the league.

    Additionally, the league will also be developing its own streaming platform for all the other games as well as regional TV deals similar to of Austins deal with Spectrum Sports.

    It really is interesting times in the US. With the collapse of Pro Rugby many would have been justified in thinking that was the end, but instead all it did was spark those with the means and ambition to get on board and make things happen.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • November 12th 2017 @ 3:36am
      Rhys Bosley said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:36am | ! Report

      Good to hear. I understand that the Americans have traditionally liked their rugby amateur, in contrast to the other big professional sports over there, but it will be good for those players who want to go that bit further to have an outlet.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 7:26am
        Londoner said | November 12th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        Good Article. I read your comments on t2 rugby board, and despite being a 60/40 League / Union Person myself, I like a lot of what you have to say.

        Rhys, yes thats the issue – USA Rugby Union is a college game. For Rich kids in general. And like in other parts of the world (Argentina for one) there will be a desire to keep Union away from the horrors of professionalism.

        There will of course be players from poorer backgrounds but to get Union to a state of popularity like soccer has, the question for me is where is the initial obvious fan base? Soccer always had the Latino demographic, and that it was a safe game for kids to play, some of those kids grew up to be fans.

        Rugby Union and League IMO will both struggle to ever really take a audience share in the USA that will mean sustainable professional sport. It missed the boat in the 1920s, when Gridiron had a lot of issues with fatalities, but then brought in the forward pass, and all changed.
        League, despite being a easier game to follow and a better TV sport, will struggle too, as why watch Rugby Union or League, when theres NFL, CFL, College Gridiron, or Lacrosse and Ice Hockey. Union and League dont have a context here with the masses.

        Good luck to this set up. I would love to see it succeed, BUT, surely a bit of common sense, i.e. have a league in a localised area, so derby games, minimal travel costs. Maybe 2 conferences. Ie a Texas one, and A Boston/ New York One. And play offs, Ie 4 teams in each, top 2 advance to play offs. Rugby League in the UK, thrives despite being concentrated in a small and not particularly rich area. It survives in France in a small area. Maybe for Union in the USA small is beautiful, i.e. State wide leagues, and focus on developing talent to play at a higher level.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 7:34am
          Fionn said | November 12th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

          The main reason to watch either of the rugby codes over gridiron is due to how stop and start gridiron is.

          I basically agree, however, rather like Melbourne the US is already an over-saturated sporting market. The Americans can only follow so many sports.

          • November 12th 2017 @ 8:42am
            Working Class Rugger said | November 12th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report


            It’s a tough market to crack but still worth giving a go.

            • November 12th 2017 @ 8:45am
              Fionn said | November 12th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

              Yeah, I reckon you’re right on both accounts. it is getting fairly common for halfway decent young Aussie rugby players to go play college rugby in the US.

              Although if it ever became a major sport in the US it seems hard to imagine that any other country on earth would be able to compete with them given their population size and the amount of money there!

              • November 12th 2017 @ 9:09am
                Working Class Rugger said | November 12th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

                If it ever were to become a major sport. It won’t happen for a while. Definitely not within 10 years. Perhaps 20. The MLS is a prime example of how long it takes. This is a league with money and facilities but still struggles to assume its place among the big players in US sports.

                Now, I think MLR can hasten their development by learning directly from the MLS (in fact a number of the MLR head office have direct MLS experience including the League’s commissioner who got Real Salt Lake up and running) which should shorten that progression. But its all still very unknown.

                However, the early signs are encouraging in regards to interest particularly from groups wanting in. I don’t mention it in the article but there are other groups watching with interest and setting goals toward 2020/21.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 8:39am
          Working Class Rugger said | November 12th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

          Traditionally it has been a College based game in the US but over the last 5 or so years there has been a real push to grow the youth game. Which has been expanding rapidly thanks to that emphasis.

          In regards to the structure of the league. In the future particularly as a number of teams set to join from the Eastern half of the States come online I can definitely see it splitting into conferences. I actually suspect that 2019 will see two 6 team conferences.

          As for regional leagues. They’ve been in existence for some time. Div One is a primary example of that. Your exact progression structure exists for the club game today.

          Beyond that there has been the Pacific Rugby Premiership, the American Rugby Premiership and now in California the Cali Cup.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 10:50pm
          In Brief said | November 12th 2017 @ 10:50pm | ! Report

          I love the hubris with which you say “League, despite being a easier game to follow and a better TV sport”, with all due respect what a load of rot. Your comment is also insinuates that rugby union is a rich snobs sport while league is a working man’s game. Nice cliche.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 3:40am
      Connor33 said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:40am | ! Report

      Excellent, read. Such positive news here for US rugby. The TV deal is not insignificant, and should only add to credibility moving forward that the pro league lacked.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 5:27am
      Buk said | November 12th 2017 @ 5:27am | ! Report

      Thanks for the update, Working Class Rugger, very interesting to hear of developments in the US.
      I always think of the US as the great sleeping giant of rugby, which with the advent of Olympic sevens exposure, will continue to grow.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 6:31am
      Not so super said | November 12th 2017 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Is their rugby working class in the USA ?
      Because it ain’t here in Australia

      • November 12th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Tony said | November 12th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Is any sport in Australia working class apart from maybe boxing?

        • November 12th 2017 @ 3:50pm
          Last Straw said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

          I was going to say rugby league, but in fact, as the players demonstrate time after time, it has no class at all.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 10:53pm
        In Brief said | November 12th 2017 @ 10:53pm | ! Report

        It is working class in Australia, just go down to a local club and see how plays, particularly at the lower levels (subbies in Sydney for example) and in the country. The issue is at there are more elite pathways for players from private schools which creates a perception.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 6:52am
      Damo said | November 12th 2017 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      Here we go again. Another pro league starting up in the US. Hopefully it has a little more success than all the other ones.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 4:36pm
        Working Class Rugger said | November 12th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

        It’s only the second one to actually be confirmed. If you’re referring to the PRP and ARP. Neither of them were/are professional leagues. The rugby Super League wasn’t either.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 7:09am
      Sam said | November 12th 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      A TV deal with CBS is extremely significant for the game globally.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 9:09am
        Working Class Rugger said | November 12th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        The TV deal is a significant thing just for the League at present. The ability to provide accessibility is huge in itself.