Battlefield USA: Rugby union versus league

kasi apuula Roar Rookie

By kasi apuula, kasi apuula is a Roar Rookie New author!


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    With the success of Canada’s first professional rugby league team and talks with more sides to join the English rugby league ranks, rugby union is looking to try and do one better.

    The vehicle for this is the formation of Major League Rugby, which is due to kick off in April of next year with seven teams: the Houston SabreCats, Utah Warriors, Seattle Seawolves, San Diego Legion, Glendale Raptors, New Orleans Gold and Austin Elite Rugby.

    The 15-man code has already attempted a pro comp in the United States with the failed Pro Rugby in 2015. Many lessons were learnt from the previous attempt, one being not to have an entire competition owned and operated by one man.

    This time around, all teams are privately owned and operated. Each team had to pay a $500,000 US bond to secure their spot in the newly-formed competition, and detailed business plans have been created to ensure sustainability for the next three years.

    Rugby league has looked to take a more conservative approach by joining the existing and already-successful English leagues. So far this has already yielded success with the Toronto Wolfpack after they gain promotion to the championship and an average home crowd of 7000.

    It raises an interesting point of debate: should rugby in America attempt to join an already-established competition? Or is Major League Rugby the way forward?

    Either way, it’s an exciting time for both codes as they look to expand into the biggest sporting market in the world. The question is, will both codes be able to co-exist? Or will the continuing code war reach the shores of Uncle Sam?

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • December 8th 2017 @ 1:31pm
      Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

      Your bond amount is way off. It was $2m. This is from blokes way more informed than either one of us.And while the competition will launch with 7 teams it will grow to at least 10 and likely 12 in its second iteration. With Chicago and Kansas City looking to enter (they were two of the original org. that signed up but elected to hold off in order to get their facilities in order), Dallas who are back working toward it, New York and Ontario. If the likes of Dallas don’t come to fruition then there are rumours of Boston coming online. Particularly with the development of very impressive facilities underway involving Boston RFC that will include a 15,000 seat stadium.

      There is also two groups very keen. One in Vancouver and another in San Francisco and if rumours are to be believed positioning in Atlanta and Florida.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 8th 2017 @ 3:31pm
        kasi apuula said | December 8th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

        My mistake WCR the 500k bond was from the article written by the Guardian which was also post on the MLR website. Its exciting times for USA rugby. All teams bar the SD Legion seem to be very active in their recruitment. Does your contact know whats happening with them?

        • December 8th 2017 @ 5:18pm
          Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:18pm | ! Report

          Apparently they’ll be drawing largely from the established D1 clubs in Southern California with perhaps some from the NorCal D1 teams.

          There has been a relaunch of the Pacific Rugby Premiership featuring 6 Californian teams. Three from Southern California (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, San Diego. Belmont Shore RFC, LA and Santa Monica RFC, LA) and three Northern California (San Francisco Gold Gate, Olympic Club and Life West. All SF based). They will be playing a 10 game season that will lead into MLR and it will act as there pre-season preparations apparently.

          A lot of people seem to be quoting that Guardian article. I wonder where the author (Martin Pengelly) got that figure from because the guys I’m getting my figure from are quite connected in MLR circles.

          • Roar Rookie

            December 8th 2017 @ 5:44pm
            kasi apuula said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

            Great to hear! Have they signed any players yet? As most of the other teams seem to have their rosters almost complete ready for preseason in January.

            If that bond is $2mil then that’s great because it shows these clubs are serious and they have some serious investors behind them.

            • December 8th 2017 @ 6:16pm
              Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 6:16pm | ! Report

              Part of joining the league is the ability to meet a number of financial obligations. I cannot remember off the top of my head but I think they need to meet that commitment every season. At least for the first few. Plus they need to be able to demonstrate that they can fund operations for at least three seasons and have the ability to develop facilities either in partnership with other organisations or achieve primary tenancy.

              There has been a lot of planning put into this effort. Certainly well beyond anything involved in PRO Rugby.

              • December 9th 2017 @ 9:32am
                Terry Tavita said | December 9th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

                $500k is the bond with MLR and a minimum of $2mil liquidity each franchise has to show..the franchises still pay their players not MLR, which they will all co-own..I read somewhere that the franchises out of texas have a lot more dough than that..

    • December 8th 2017 @ 1:41pm
      Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

      Most locals favour the establishment of their own league as opposed to entering a foreign based one. Purely from the opportunity to use it as a base to further grow the game. Being able to see a defined pathway for athletes and professional competition more locally for viewers seems to be the thinking behind that standpoint.

      Oh, they also have a multi-year TV deal. With CBS Sports. Across a number of platforms including TV, streaming services such as Hulu and via the CBS Sports App. So, lots of accessibility. They’ll initially have 13 games broadcast live in a prime time slot featuring a game of the week. The League will also have a streaming option for all games as well as each club will seek local TV deals(a few of them already have these in place) to supplement the national broadcast.

    • December 8th 2017 @ 1:47pm
      Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

      There is also a salary cap. Which sits at around $250k for the first season. But there’s an interesting loop hole around it. That is the in season salary cap. With the first season only running for slightly longer than our NRC. Thirteen weeks in total. Outside of that window the amounts players are paid aren’t considered under the cap. And considering some of the talent that has been signed. I’m betting the actual working salary cap is closer to $1m a season (likely a little more) for most of the teams.

    • Roar Guru

      December 8th 2017 @ 5:09pm
      Cadfael said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

      This will be interesting. I have been following league since the 60s and this has been a perrenial hope:” to get the US into league and have their own top line competition. Here’s hoping.

      • December 8th 2017 @ 5:25pm
        Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

        Problem is, the approach League is taking is still very piecemeal at best. The game has never really looked to put any degree of real resources in growing the game beyond its very small footprint (not trying to knock it but there are only really ever 12 or so active clubs nationwide at any one time in the US and none West of the Mississippi). There is this assumption that they’ll capture the existing Rugby audience merely by placing a Pro team in this city or that city. Believing that they won’t know or care about the difference. That’s incorrect.

        Yes, the Wolfpack had some success in attracting some of the Rugby public in Toronto/Ontario but not as large of a segment of that crowd as they think. And I know that many of those Rugby fans they have engaged are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Arrows and MLR in 2019.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 8th 2017 @ 5:49pm
        kasi apuula said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

        The US is a massive sporting market with both codes being able to co-exist.

        My question in relation to the other proposed rugby league franchise is where will the players be generated from? As 99% of the current Wolfpack squad are foreigners.

        Does USA rugby league have enough domestic players to compete in the English leagues?

        • December 8th 2017 @ 6:13pm
          Working Class Rugger said | December 8th 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

          They’ll be primarily imports. There isn’t a great deal of depth in the RL ranks in the US. They’ll likely sign a handful as the Wolfpack did in Canada but whether they’ll use them is a completely different story.

          And a lot of the better Rugby (Union) talent is positioning themselves to join MLR. They might be able to offer a little more in terms of salary but the MLR has more opportunity available.

          There is certainly room enough for them to co-exist but it will take a lot of investment to get RL to the point where it can offer players something more than just a hit out. Rugby has been at the development game in the US for the better part of 20 years. Involving literally 10s of thousands of hours and millions of dollars of both development funding and in many cases out of the pocket of volunteers to get it to the point where a domestic pro-league might be viable. League needs to do similar. Frankly, there’s no shortcuts to success.

    • December 8th 2017 @ 5:32pm
      Bakkies said | December 8th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

      ‘Rugby league has looked to take a more conservative approach by joining the existing and already-successful English leagues.’

      Rugby are doing it the right way setting up a domestic competition and there is existing grassroots in clubs, schools and colleges.

    • December 9th 2017 @ 7:14am
      Keith said | December 9th 2017 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      kasi apuula wrote “All [MLR] teams bar the SD Legion seem to be very active in their recruitment.”

      Actually, from what I’ve heard and (not) read, the Glendale Raptors are seemingly content with the 2017 roster and making very few changes to it for the inaugural season of Major League Rugby. Since PRO Rugby had a 2017 exclusive with USA Rugby (the national governing body) and no other American professional rugby “league” could form in 2017, several teams including Glendale, Austin, Utah, New Orleans played a one-season schedule of professional “friendlies” for the one and only Major Rugby Cup. Players from the aforementioned teams will make up a good portion of their MLR counterparts in 2018.

      The Raptors stormed undefeated through the one and only season of Major Rugby Cup with little opposition (the Austin Huns finished with the second-best record having been outscored by Glendale 92-35 in two matches, and did not appear for the championship game, preferring the more likely opportunity to win the national D1 championship the same weekend). The Raptors will enter the inaugural season of MLR with their 2017 roster largely intact.

      Who knows – they may be in for a rude awakening and revisit their strategy prior to season #2.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 9th 2017 @ 8:19am
        kasi apuula said | December 9th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        Thanks for that Keith. I didn’t actually realise they the had an existing roster. I simply assumed these were players sign during the formation of the team.

        Should be interesting, either they are going to be in for a rude awakening as you said, or the team could have an advantage with settled combinations having already a full year together.

        • December 9th 2017 @ 8:50am
          Keith said | December 9th 2017 @ 8:50am | ! Report

          The Raptors have been around since 2007, and won the Pacific Rugby Premiership title in 2015 and 2016 before leaving in 2017 for Major Rugby Cup play. The core of what is now the professional squad has been together since 2014 or so, with changes here and there – 2016 team MVP Martin Knoetze left for Austin this year, and a couple of players from Denver’s second best team, the Barbarians, came over and joined the professional side, along with a few pickups from the national team, Ata Malifa for one. There are 5 Raptors on the current USA Eagles national team and several more who are waiting for a call, so expectations are that they’re the team to beat in the MLR inaugural season.

          • December 9th 2017 @ 9:16am
            Working Class Rugger said | December 9th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

            The Raptors have been the gold standard in terms of domestic teams in NA for a couple of years now. Helped largely due to there facilities and the ability it has provided to attract talent. They’ve effectively had a professional set up for some time. They’ll definitely be the team to beat when the MLR kicks off in April.

            • December 9th 2017 @ 9:39am
              Keith said | December 9th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

              The Raptors were scary good in 2017, in both the spring Major Rugby Cup season and the fall barnstorming season – this fall they took on the best teams in the Northeast, including Ontario, NYAC, Old Blue, and Mystic River, and thumped all of them by wide margins.

              Many of their players were recruited to the briefly-lived Denver Stampede of PRO Rugby, and returned to Glendale when PRO folded. The guys I know who play for the Raptors are quite confident of the team’s prospects when the MLR season starts in April.

              And they do have the best facilities in North American rugby, by all accounts. World-class playing surface, a purpose-built stadium that can seat 5000 with room to grow, a fantastic weight room that compares with National Football League counterparts, full support of the city of Glendale, and, most important, a pub in the stadium.

              • December 9th 2017 @ 10:05am
                Working Class Rugger said | December 9th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

                Infinity Park is an amazing facility and has provided the Raptors the ability to be able to essentially operate as a professional organisation from some time now. They are in fact the team I’ll be supporting when MLR kicks off. Thanks to their broadcasting of games I’ve been watching them for several years now. Since before the PRP.

              • Roar Guru

                December 14th 2017 @ 4:10am
                Carlos the Argie said | December 14th 2017 @ 4:10am | ! Report

                The West Point Military Academy has extraordinary rugby facilities.