Paddy O’Gorman on the Prospective Vancouver MLR Team

Paddy O'Gorman

As of right now, there is only one pro rugby union team in Canada, and that is the Toronto Arrows. Paddy O’Gorman, though, is one of the people trying to bring a pro rugby union team to Vancouver, British Columbia in MLR. This would mean a rivalry for both the Canadian club, the Arrows, and also the American Pacific Northwest team, the Seattle Seawolves.

Paddy O’Gorman was kind enough to give up some of his time to interview with Last Word on Rugby. This is what he said, including insights into why he wanted to bring a professional rugby union team to Vancouver.

Paddy O’Gorman; his goal of launching an MLR team in British Columbia

What got you interested in trying to bring a Vancouver MLR team?

During a trip in Toronto after Boston, last year, I spent time in both towns and became somewhat familiar with both of the individual organizations. And then I thought to myself, it was time that someone took a run at starting a team in Vancouver.

How much progress have you made in trying to get a Vancouver MLR Team and what are the obstacles that remain?

In the last 10 months, we took a concept and an idea and put a lot of substance around it. I’ve assembled a great group of people that are passionate about sports and the local community. We’ve got a team in place that will turn this concept into a really good plan, and get a great team and a fan experience going in Vancouver. We’re in discussion with various groups in regard to venues to play. So that’s probably the biggest obstacle at the moment is getting the venue sorted out. And then, the location for training and confirming the makeup and structure of our investment group is again another area where we need to have some solutions.

How many years would it take before the potential Vancouver MLR team wish to break even?

I can only address really the operating costs. And if we’re very good at what we do, it will be five years before we can break even on operating costs. If we’re very, very good at what we do, I think we can break even on operating costs in three years’ time. And I’m hoping that we can be beyond very, very good.

Have you been in touch with anyone involved with the Toronto Arrows management?

Yep, I’ve had extensive conversations with Bill Webb, and somewhat with Mark Winokur. So, I’m somewhat familiar with their organization, as my son had actually signed up with the Arrows about three years ago, but during COVID that never went ahead. And I was in Toronto last year for the game when Toronto beat the New England Free Jacks. So no, they’re a very capable team on certain days.

What have your discussions been so far with the city of Burnaby and playing at Swangard Stadium? Are there any other stadiums in Metro Vancouver that you are interested in?

Yeah, well, you know, had preliminary discussions with the city of Burnaby on two occasions, for the use of the stadium, and also for training facilities within Burnaby itself. And, so as I say, they’re preliminary, they’re looking at doing some upgrades to Swanguard Stadium. And that’s something they have consultants working on at the moment. So it’s a little bit up in the air as far as if and when the stadium would be usable in a functional manner for us that we’re very hopeful could occur and be available for us to use at the start of 2024.

Metro Vancouver has changed a lot since Vancouver hosted the Olympics in terms of pro sports teams being added. Examples can be the soccer box lacrosse and basketball teams that have come to the region. Where do you see the Vancouver MLR team fitting with all these sports teams?

Well, like many Vancouver fans, there’s something quite comforting about watching a nooner or a baseball game at Nat Bailey Stadium on a summer’s night. That’s a great affordable experience. And many of the people that attended are not baseball fans, but they are frequently sold out because they do such a good job of making it entertaining and very affordable.

And so, I mean, those are the sorts of models that we wish to emulate. The Warriors in lacrosse, are doing a good job of making lacrosse affordable, accessible, and entertaining, and they get decent crowds as well. And the Whitecaps are very good, they’re a good organization, and they get solid crowds, as do the Bandits out at the Langley Events Centre in the township of Langley, the basketball team.

So, these are all models that we’re definitely trying to emulate. And even if we can do a better job of it, we want this to be about entertainment, not just about a specific sport, and we want it to be entertaining and bring the communities together, wherever we end up playing, and attract people from all over the map, the Lower Mainland. We’ve looked at all these teams and more. And basically, we’re looking to incorporate best practices to make our project attractive, affordable, and entertaining for the local community.

Sports Competition in Vancouver/Burnaby

As indicated in the interview, Vancouver is becoming a very competitive sports market. Yes, since late 2001, they have had only pro sports teams in the big four leagues in North America (NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB). However, they do have teams in probably the next three richest pro men’s leagues after that in North America with the CFL, MLS, and the NLL. Vancouver also has a minor league baseball team with the Canadians and in the township of Langley has a WHL, CEBL, and CPL team. There are also plans to have a pro women’s soccer team in Vancouver with also the potential of possibly having a major rugby league team(s) in the CCCRL.

This can be a very good thing as it shows that Vancouver is a sports market hungry to support more teams. When talking about Burnaby, they have sports teams, but none that would be considered “professional.” Burnaby did have an AUDL team called the Vancouver Riptide, which moved to Portland in the 2020 AUDL season. In fact, the Whitecaps (before called the 86ers) played at Swangard Stadium when they were in the second division of American soccer and the now defunct first division Canadian Soccer League before moving to BC Place to start the inaugural season in MLS in 2011.

Paddy O’Gorman: His vision for a potential Vancouver MLR team

It is important to note that a second pro rugby union team in Canada has not happened yet. There were attempts to bring an MLR team to Vancouver for 2019 (source: DJCOILRugby) and a SLAR team in Langford (Greater Victoria, source: Paul Tait) for 2023, with both falling through at an advanced stage of the process. It also seems that the biggest sticking point right now with O’Gorman’s ownership group is trying to find a stadium to play in.  However, there is definitely a lot of optimism that can be found with this potential ownership group.

When interviewing O’Gorman, it seems like he has done his research. This is something he and others in the Vancouver MLR group were working together on. Also, in O’Gorman’s policy paper, he said this:

“Build a professional Academy program showing a clear pathway from mini rugby to professional to National honours. If the opportunity arises or we create the opportunity, we would bring on a girls’ Academy and possibly down the road a semi-professional women’s team with a similar pathway.”

This might get North Americans, and specifically Canadians very excited as it seems like they would be interested in developing players in Canada. There has been talk about having a pro women’s league counterpart with then MLR commissioner, George Killebrew.

The potential for a Vancouver MLR team is endless. If this happens, it would mean rivalries with both the Arrows and the Seattle Seawolves. They would have no shortage of rivalries if they were to join the league. The MLS team, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, has established rivalries with both the Toronto and Seattle MLS teams including beating TFC in the Canadian Championship last year. It could mean rivalry cups with both teams, which would definitely work, and with the Arrows it would mean something more as it would determine who is the best team in Canada.

READ MORE: Toronto Arrows co-founder Bill Webb – Interview (Part Two of Two)


The interview with Paddy O’Gorman took place on April 17, 2023.


Photo Credit: Reegan O’Gorman