Next Year’s Major League Rugby Set to Impress: Part One

South Africa v USA - IRB RWC 2007 Match Fourty

Last Word on Rugby, by Josh Bradham.

With an announcement of nine new teams set for play next year, Major League Rugby will be the best effort towards professional rugby in the USA.

Following the painful and embarrassing situation between Pro Rugby and USA Rugby last winter, in February a new League was announced. The prelude to this league was the Major Rugby Championship. Five teams were featured in this ‘friendly’ competition that set the groundwork for Major League Rugby to now pursue a firm hold within the US market.

Next season, the list of teams will likelygrow to nine, representing a large portion of the country.

The timing of Major League Rugby will be keyed around the expiration of Pro Rugby’s contract with USA Rugby. As it sits right now; contrary to Doug Schoninger, PRO Rugby (PR) is ‘dead in the water’ with no players or coaches within that organization. The standing contract between PR and USA rugby will expire by March of 2018.

Major League Rugby to Bring Variety, New Sponsors and New Fans

Major League Rugby (MLR) has an edge on the ill fated variations of PRO Rugby in many ways. Firstly, the conference is using pre-existing teams, with the exception of the Houston Strikers.

Secondly, the competition is working hard to grow new sponsorship which will bring much needed capital into the league.

Thirdly, there will be more variety now than what PRO had offered, and for many years to come. MLR is expected to  start out with nine foundation teams–trumping PRO’s first season with only five teams. Where PR only intended slight growth, their plan for season two was an expansion to seven teams. All plans, but with nothing fully realized.

New Vision for US Rugby Has Good Base

The new vision for professional rugby in the States has a good base to begin with. Starting off as it means to continue, whereas the PRO Rugby model had many issues, all before their eventual collapse. Excitement and interest will follow the developments of MLR, in it’s inception and maiden season.

Last Word on Rugby was able to contact Major League Rugby representative Nic Benson, an MLR official, to answer some questions that US Rugby fans will have. Below is the first of two features on the latest step within US Rugby towards a successful, and popular, national competition.

Last Word on Rugby: How many teams will be involved next year for MLR?

MLR: “At present, MLR has nine members. It’s possible that not all of those members will participate in year one, simply because each team is at a different place in negotiating/finalizing their stadium plans etc. So, some may choose to wait until 2019. 

We are in discussions with a few other groups who may join for the 2018 or 2019 season. We hope to have a firm number in the coming weeks.”

LWOR: Will all these teams be fully contracted professional players?

MLR: “In year one we will use a mix of contract types – full-time, part time, academy etc, combinations will vary by team. We are close to finalizing our player allocation guidelines, so we will have more detail on that soon.”

LWOR: How will the transition work for smaller teams that are currently fully amateur?

MLR: “Creating a system that allows pathways for the newer/smaller teams to compete with the more established programs is one of our primary considerations.”

LWOR: How is the development for sponsorship going?

“We are making great progress and will release details as we finalize.”

A significant sponsor is vital to gaining a broad reach within all markets. From the initial reports, teams spread across the country will host matches in major centres, and in front of large audiences.

LWOR: Will all nine teams have their own stadium the first season?

MLR: “Our goal is for each of the teams to have their own stadium, but that will take time. Some teams may have their own facilities ready by 2018, but many will begin in local (regional) stadiums, so long as they meet certain minimum criteria.”

LWOR: Will MLR feature matches on TV” or will it be mainly streaming?

MLR: “Yes, we have had discussions with several media partners, linear and streaming, and will release details as we finalize.”

Major League Rugby definitely seems like they are building a strong organization, and have real plans for longevity. The public reaction so far has been limited, with a planned release lease up to 2018.
In part two of this feature, LWOR will look at each of the teams that are likely to make up the MLR schedule for next season.

“Main photo credit”