INTERVIEW – MLR 2022 has just started with an addition of the 13th team in Dallas. The North American league, which currently has 12 teams in the U.S., and one in Canada, could be the next big sport in North America. At the centre of that is MLR Commissioner George Killebrew, who previously worked with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The interview was done on February 7, 2022, with George Killebrew.
MLR 2022: The state of MLR with Commissioner George Killebrew
- What did you think of the 2021 MLR season? And how did you deal with COVID-19?
The smiles say it all! 🥳
— LA Giltinis (@Giltinis) August 1, 2021
It really could not go any better. We were pretty much the only professional league in North America that got all of our matches in 99 and 0. We did not have any cancellations during COVID, which a lot of other leagues in North America were unable to achieve. So from my perspective, all things considered, it was a huge success. Our players, coaches, medical staff, and trainers took our COVID-19 protocols to heart and really adhered to them like when we travelled you could see everyone was following all the masking rules. That is how it works when everybody buys in and we had a flawless season.
- What do you think of the current TV deals with MLR, specifically with Canada and USA?
Major League Rugby and @FOXSports announce their national television schedule for Season Five.
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) February 4, 2022
We are about to announce our TV deals for this upcoming season with Fox Sports, which is really great. You know our first contract with Fox was supposed to be all on FS2 but they voluntarily moved five or so matches to FS1. You upgrade it to FS1 and it’s like a 20 million household delta and it is kind of a big deal. During the offseason, we made the decision to go with just one partner and we were split between CBS and Fox. Fox was a really great partner and voluntarily upgraded a lot of our matches to FS1 throughout all the playoffs and did the final with the Fox broadcast.
I was really, really pleased with our broadcast arrangements. In the first week, New Orleans and New England were on FS2. So we’re awaiting the results of that. On the Canadian side, really, I don’t know much as I should, I guess. They are really pleased with their partnership with I believe is with TSN. Is that correct? (Raheem Bashir said yes). Now obviously, they are kind of the big hitter in Canada, so we’re pleased to be with TSN as well.
- What is the relationship between MLR and SLAR and could there be games played between the two leagues?
I think in time, there’s a possibility of that. For us moving into year five, this is a year where we really have to concentrate on getting all the 13 franchises hitting on all cylinders, filling our stadiums and having a great entertainment property. I get asked that question or similar to that one all the time. When are you guys possibly getting an expansion to a professional women’s league, or seven’s professional league, or play other rugby leagues across the world? These are all things we would like to do but first, we have to get it really right in North America, and that is what we’re working on.
- What is your opinion on the MLR Rivalry Cups in the league like the Fire and Ice Cup?
— Rugby ATL (@RugbyATL) May 9, 2021
I think it’s great. I think obviously our 13th franchise is here in Dallas, Texas. Now, we have three teams in Texas. So it’s a great rivalry within a rivalry to have a state cup to get bragging rights for the state of Texas. We also have the Fire and Ice Cup. I think it adds to the drama and I think it’s great.
- How excited are you that the Toronto Arrows will play their first home games since 2019?
It’s an exciting time for the Toronto Arrows. First of all, someone asked me the other day to describe what Toronto went through last year just to be in the competition and I used the word heroic because no one else had to pick up all of their operations and move to the U.S. As we know, Atlanta hosted them last season. I would have fully expected if somebody called last year and said that maybe we ought to sit out a year with COVID-19, I would have expected it would have been them. This is because we couldn’t travel into Canada and vice versa. What they did to stay in the competition for 2021 was nothing less than heroic.
After 985 days away, @usmlr rugby is finally back in Canada.
— Toronto Arrows RFC (@TorontoArrows) February 11, 2022
Then you fast forward to this weekend, Friday, February 11, Toronto will be hosting the 2021 MLR champions, the LA Giltinis at Starlight Stadium in Langford, BC (the LA Giltinis won that game 31-16) for the first “home match” for this country in about 1,000 days, which is awesome, but the first official home match will be on April 2 at York University against Rugby ATL. We’re really happy for Toronto to get to play a regular-season game in Canada even though it’s not in their home, but later in the year, they play back home at York University on April 2.
- When do you plan to announce the possible expansion of MLR teams that have been rumoured for 2023?
We’re talking to a number of cities right now. All of which are doing their due diligence. There really isn’t any firm timetable. As soon as they are ready to make an announcement, then we’ll be ready. They have to check several boxes before they are ready to do that. A couple of cities, in particular, have gone way down the pipe on this and getting pretty close. Stay tuned and as soon as they’re ready and we’re ready, we’ll make the announcement.
Key points of the insightful MLR 2022 interview with Commissioner George Killebrew
Commissioner George Killebrew talked about the 2021 MLR season as a smashing success. He did note that not one game was cancelled in the 2021 MLR season, which for a young league is quite commendable. Also, the television situation in the U.S. is very interesting. Fox Sports has really gone all-in on MLR and has been awarded the exclusive television rights with MLR. They see the potential of this league very early on in the league’s existence.
With this league, there is no rush to expand and/or play with other professional rugby union leagues. Understandably, with COVID-19 not being “the big issue” as it was in the last two years (let’s hope that it stays that way) teams like the Arrows can play in Canada. Also, fans are now being allowed to attend games in both Canada and the U.S. They are also taking time to expand. There are other leagues in North America that expanded too fast and many of those teams folded or relocated. The National Lacrosse League until recently was an example of that.
𝐅𝐔𝐋𝐋-𝐓𝐈𝐌𝐄 – Thank you to BC for making us feel right at home. 🇨🇦
— Toronto Arrows RFC (@TorontoArrows) February 12, 2022
Killebrew was happy to see the Arrows come back to Canadain MLR 2022. In particular, he mentioned the game in Langford and the first home game in Toronto since 2019 on April 2 against Rugby ATL. Most notably though is that MLR could possibly have a pro women’s or seven’s league in North America. This was something that is quite surprising as there is no current pro women’s rugby union league in the world right now. It also shows MLR’s ability to think outside of the box and that is what is so exciting about this league.
The Arrows, who have one win and two losses, will travel to the U.S. Capital to face Old Glory DC at 4:00 p.m. ET. They will have three road games in March. They will then face Fire and Ice Cup rivals, Rugby ATL (Atlanta) at York Lions Stadium at 12:00 p.m. ET. As mentioned before, the April 2 game will be the first Arrows game in Toronto since 2019.
According to the Toronto Arrows, both the Atlanta and Washington D.C. games will be shown on TSN and The Rugby Network. Additionally, the Old Glory DC game will be shown on NBCSW. The Old Glory DC game will be the last game this year shown on TSN.ca/TSN App. All the Toronto games after the one on February 26 will be shown nationally on TSN including the Atlanta game on April 2 according to TSN (schedule could still change though).
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