Major League Rugby

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Major League Rugby
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2020 Major League Rugby season
Major League Rugby logo.svg
SportRugby union
Founded2017
Inaugural season2018
CommissionerGeorge Killebrew [1]
No. of teams13
CountriesUnited States (12 teams)
Canada (1 team)
HeadquartersSalt Lake City, Utah, United States
ConfederationRAN
Most recent
champion(s)
Seattle Seawolves (2nd title)
Most titlesSeattle Seawolves (2 titles)
TV partner(s)
Official websitemajorleague.rugby

Major League Rugby (MLR or USMLR) is a professional rugby union competition and the top-level championship for clubs in North America. In the 2021 season it will be contested by thirteen teams: twelve from the United States and one from Canada.[3] Officially sanctioned by USA Rugby, which is a member union of Rugby Americas North (RAN), and consequently part of World Rugby, the league was founded in 2017, and is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With its initial beginnings as part of established amateur rugby clubs in major North American urban areas, MLR began its first season in 2018 as an initiative of the American rugby community in partnership with private investors.[4] Three further American clubs, in Atlanta, Boston, and Washington D.C., began play in 2020.[3]

Major League Rugby implemented its first collegiate MLR Draft in 2020.[5]

The 2020 season was suspended on March 12, 2020, due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. On March 18, the league announced that they would resume play in 2021.[6]

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

In September 2016, with at least five amateur rugby union clubs across the United States discussing a possible professional league, Dean Howes,[7] who had previously been an executive with Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League, stepped in as senior strategic advisor for Rugby Utah in an attempt to provide a pathway for expanding professional rugby stateside.[8]

By February 2017, a total of nine amateur rugby union organizations including the Austin Huns, Dallas Griffins, Glendale Raptors, Houston Strikers, Kansas City Blues, Minneapolis, New Orleans RFC, Rugby Utah and the Seattle Saracens, announced their intentions to form a professional league to begin play the following year.[9][10]

On August 15, 2017, the Austin Huns announced that it would opt-out of MLR in favor of allowing a newly-branded spinoff, the Austin Elite compete in the league.[11] The Houston Strikers rebranded themselves as the Houston SaberCats. Whereas the elite players of New Orleans, Utah, and Seattle became the New Orleans Gold, Utah Warriors, and Seattle Seawolves respectively, interests in Minneapolis were replaced by the San Diego Legion.[12] With Kansas City and Dallas still in planning stages, the league continued as seven members for its inaugural season.[13]

On November 6, 2017, Major League Rugby and CBS Sports Network announced a multi-year television partnership which marked MLR's first major television deal for broadcast rights.[14] It was the first time in American history that a new sporting league had a national television deal prior to launch.[15]

Early seasons and rapid expansion[edit]

The first regular-season game in Major League Rugby history was held on April 21, 2018, when the Houston SaberCats hosted the New Orleans Gold in Houston.

In addition to Rugby United New York, the Toronto Arrows joined the league ahead of 2019 season as the first Canadian team in MLR. Three further American clubs began play in 2020, with the New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC, and Rugby ATL.[3]

In late April 2019, RUNY announced the signing of French international Mathieu Bastareaud which is seen as a major coup for the league, since Bastereaud is a current French international and world-class player, making him by far the most prominent player in the league at that time.[citation needed]

In October 2019, another major signing was made when it was announced that All Blacks international and multiple World Cup winner Ma'a Nonu would join the San Diego Legion for the 2020 season.[16] The following December saw another World Cup winner sign with the league, namely South Africa prop Tendai Mtawarira with Old Glory DC.[17]

On March 12, 2020, MLR initially suspended its 2020 season for 30 days due to the coronavirus pandemic[18] but then cancelled the remainder of the entire season on March 18.[19] On April 9, the Colorado Raptors announced they were leaving the league.[20][21]

On May 28, 2020, the LA Giltinis were introduced as an expansion team based in Los Angeles, set to begin competition in the 2021 MLR season. The name is a combination of the word "martini" and the last name of owner Adam Gilchrist. [22]

On June 4, 2020, the Dallas Jackals were introduced as an expansion team based in Dallas, Texas set to begin competition in the 2021 MLR season.[23]

Competition format[edit]

Major League Rugby spans five months from February through to the end of June. The 2019 regular season was a double round-robin with all clubs playing each other home and away.[3] Each team played sixteen games, half of them at home. This was followed by a postseason for the top four teams consisting of two semi-final matches and the Championship Game to determine the season's MLR champion team.[24]

For the 2020 season, MLR changed to a conference format.[25] Both conferences, the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, consisted of six teams: Seattle, San Diego, Utah, Colorado, Austin and Houston in the west and existing teams New Orleans, New York, and Toronto to be joined by 2020 newcomers Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New England in the east. Each team played a double round-robin within their conference in addition to playing six games against teams from the other conference, for a total of 16 regular-season games.[26] The postseason would consist of the top three teams from each conference: a wildcard game between the second and third ranked teams, followed by a playoff game between the wildcard winner and the first ranked team in the conference. The resulting playoff winners from each conference would then face off in the league championship. The season started on February 8 and ended on March 8.

The league is structured as a closed system and, similar to other American sports leagues, does not have promotion and relegation.[27] It operates as a single entity similar to Major League Soccer and other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, with each team or "franchise" owned by the league and the franchise operators owning a share of the league.[28]

Teams[edit]

Map[edit]

Locations of teams for 2021 Major League Rugby season
         Red pog.svg Western Conference
         Blue pog.svg Eastern Conference
         Steel pog.svg Announced/confirmed future expansion teams

2020 teams[edit]

There are twelve teams that were to compete in the 2020 Major League Rugby season with a scheduled regular season of 96 matches and teams divided into two conferences:[3]

Conference Club Location Stadium Capacity Joined Coach Broadcasters
Western Austin Gilgronis Austin, Texas Bold Stadium 5,000 2018 Brent Semmons CBS Austin
Univision Austin
Colorado Raptors Glendale, Colorado Infinity Park[a] 5,000 2018 Peter Borlase KUSA9
Houston SaberCats Houston, Texas Aveva Stadium 4,000 2018 Paul Healy KUBE-TV
Univision Houston
San Diego Legion San Diego, California Torero Stadium 6,000 2018 Rob Hoadley FOX 5 San Diego
Univision San Diego
Seattle Seawolves Tukwila, Washington Starfire Stadium[b] 4,500 2018 Kees Lensing Univision Seattle
Root Sports Northwest
Utah Warriors Herriman, Utah Zions Bank Stadium[c] 5,000 2018 Chris Latham Univision Utah
My Utah TV
Eastern New England Free Jacks Weymouth, Massachusetts Union Point Sports Complex 2,000 2020[31] Josh Smith CBS 4 Boston
NESNplus
New Orleans Gold Metairie, Louisiana Gold Mine[d] 10,000 2018 Nate Osborne Cox Sports TV
Telemundo Nuevo Orleans
Old Glory DC Washington, D.C. Cardinal Stadium 3,500 2020[33] Andrew Douglas Univision DC
NBC Sports Washington
Rugby United New York Brooklyn, New York MCU Park 7,000 2019 Greg McWilliams SportsNet New York
Univision Nueva York
Rugby ATL Marietta, Georgia Lupo Family Field 2,500 2020 Scott Lawerence WSB-TV
Toronto Arrows Toronto, Ontario Alumni Field
Lamport Stadium
2,500+
9,600
2019 Chris Silverthorn TSN
  1. ^ Infinity Park is in Glendale, Colorado, a home rule municipality in the Denver metropolitan area.
  2. ^ Starfire Stadium is in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Washington.[29]
  3. ^ Zions Bank Stadium is in Herriman, Utah, located within the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.[30]
  4. ^ The Gold Mine, also known as Shrine on Airline, is in Metairie, Louisiana, a census-designated place in the New Orleans metropolitan area.[32]

Timeline[edit]

LA GiltinisDallas JackalsRugby ATLOld Glory DCNew England Free JacksToronto ArrowsRugby United NYNOLA GoldUtah WarriorsSeattle SeawolvesSan Diego LegionHouston SabercatsColorado RaptorsGlendale RaptorsAustin GilgronisAustin Elite

Current Members Previous Team Name Former Members

Expansion teams[edit]

The expansion franchise fee is US$4 million as of 2019.[34] In November 2019, the only expansion team mentioned by the league is to be based in Dallas,[35] although no other information on the team has been announced.[34] In December 2019, another new team proposed for 2021 called Loyals Rugby, based in Los Angeles, was announced at the press conference introducing new commissioner George Killebrew.[36] The Los Angeles franchise was named the LA Giltinis on May 28, 2020.[37] The Dallas Franchise was named the Dallas Jackals on June 5, 2020.

Expansion candidates[edit]

In July 2018, an ownership group in Los Angeles announced its intentions to join in the 2019 season as LA Coast Rugby,[38] but the bid was ultimately rejected.[39] Instead, an Australian ownership group has been approved to field a team in Los Angeles with a 2021 start date called the Los Angeles Loyals.[39] An owner in Vancouver, British Columbia, announced intentions to add a team to MLR for the 2019 season, but also never went further.[40][41] Columbus, Ohio, which previously had a team in PRO Rugby, nearly became home to a relocated Austin Herd in the 2020 season.[39] The owner of the HFX Wanderers FC soccer team also stated he had been in talks with the league for an expansion team.[42] In December 2019, former RC Toulon majority owner Mourad Boudjellal apparently discussed making a bid for a team in Miami.[36] MLR has confirmed that a team from Hawaii is being considered for 2021.[43]

Former teams[edit]

Team Location Stadium Joined Left
Colorado Raptors Glendale, Colorado Infinity Park 2018 2020[44]

Champions[edit]

By year
Year Teams Final Semi-finalists
Champion Score Runner-up Higher seeded Lower seeded
2018 7 Seattle Seawolves 23–19 Glendale Raptors San Diego Legion Utah Warriors
2019 9 Seattle Seawolves 26–23 San Diego Legion Toronto Arrows Rugby United New York
2020 12 Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic
By team
Club Winner Runner up
Seattle Seawolves 2 (2018, 2019) 0
Colorado Raptors 0 1 (2018)
San Diego Legion 0 1 (2019)

Players[edit]

Major League Rugby players include those drawn from North American clubs, as well as foreign signings. Although the original concept was to limit club to three foreign players, the limit grew to five before the start of the first season, before then being increased to ten. This increased allotment of foreign players led to some criticism that MLR was not providing enough opportunities for American players to develop.[45]

Awards[edit]

MLR season
Player of the Year Forward of the Year Back of the Year Coach of the Year
2019
MLR championship
MVP of the Championship Match MVP of the Championship Series
2018
  • no award
2019

Television coverage[edit]

Major League Rugby programming runs in prime weekend time slots on Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings.[46]

The CBS Sports Network televises 13 matches nationally over the course of the season. This includes a Game of the Week during each of the 10 rounds of the MLR regular season along with all three post-season matches.[24] Live streaming is also available through the CBS Sports Network streaming platforms.[24] Dan Power (Play By Play), Brian Hightower (Color Analyst) and Stacy Paetz (Sideline) were the CBS Sports commentators for the 2019 season.[47] The remaining games are available on ESPN properties and regional sports networks.[48]

ESPN has the national and international rights to an 18-game package covering regular season matches to audiences across its various platforms.[48]

AT&T Sports Networks have a 17-game package covering six of the seven MLR teams for games not broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.[46] Home-and-away matches for Austin, Houston and New Orleans are carried on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. Seattle's matches are carried on Root Sports Northwest and all Colorado and Utah games are hosted on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain.[46]

San Diego has a separate local rights agreement for their market with all the Legion's home-and-away MLR games that are not on the CBS Sports Network being televised locally on Channel 4 YurView California.[49]

Austin Elite Rugby partnered with Facebook Watch for their Texas-based viewers during the 2019 season.[citation needed]

Rugby United New York announced regional television partnership with SNY, which will televise nine games of RUNY's inaugural season (2019), with the premiere game airing LIVE Sunday, January 27 at 5:00 PM EST.[50] Also, NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports Philadelphia+ will join SNY in televising match coverage of eight remaining games, beginning Saturday February 16 at 3 PM EST when RUNY travels to face the NOLA Gold. The partnership with the NBC Sports Regional Networks expands RUNY's TV market into two key East Coast markets.[51]

Toronto Arrows Rugby announced a television partnership with GameTV for the 2019 season.

The 2019 Championship game was broadcast on CBS, the first MLR game to be televised on free-to-air TV. It gained a 0.32 Sports TV rating which equated to 510,000 two-plus-person households.[52]

Attendance[edit]

Top five attendances for Major League Rugby games (all time, from 2018 onward):[citation needed]

Rank Attendance Game Date Season Venue Metro area
1 6,000 San Diego Legion vs Seattle Seawolves (Final) June 16, 2019 2 Torero Stadium San Diego, CA
2 4,500 San Diego Legion vs Rugby United New York (Semi-Final) June 9, 2019 2 Torero Stadium San Diego, CA
3 4,175 San Diego Legion vs New Orleans Gold June 2, 2019 2 Torero Stadium San Diego, CA
4 4,000 Glendale Raptors vs Seattle Seawolves May 18, 2019 2 Infinity Park Glendale, CO
5 3,800 Seattle Seawolves vs Austin Elite June 2, 2019 2 Starfire Stadium Seattle, WA
3,800 Seattle Seawolves vs Utah Warriors May 26, 2019 2 Starfire Stadium Seattle, WA

The highest attended non-competition game by an MLR team was a pre-season clash between Utah Warriors and Glendale Raptors, March 31, 2018, which drew 9,186 at Rio Tinto Stadium.[citation needed]

Attendance for the inaugural season was ~1833 per match. That average increased in 2019 with an average of 2133 per game and a total of 159,000 attendees. [1]

Executives[edit]

Commissioner

Deputy Commissioner

  • Nic Benson (2016–present)[53]

Sponsorship[edit]

The league signed a multi-year partnership deal with XBlades in 2017 to supply all jersey/kit apparel for each MLR team and all match officials.[54] MLR also announced Ram Rugby as the official ball supplier.[55] In May 2018, via Instagram, MLR announced Impact Custom Mouth Guards as the official mouth guard of the league.[56] The Gem Garden in San Marcos, California, makes all MLR Championship rings.[57]

On October 28, 2019, Major League Rugby announced that, starting for the 2020 season, Paladin Sports will be the new supplier of all uniforms/kit for the league.[58]

On January 2, 2020, MLR partnered with Rhino Rugby for the 2020 season. Rhino Rugby is the official ball and technical training equipment supplier for the 2020 MLR season. The Rhino Rugby "Vortex Elite" ball is the official MLR match ball for all 12 teams. The Vortex Elite is currently the official ball of Rugby Europe, and Asia Rugby, and has been used in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) the past several years[59]

Jersey sponsorships
Team Sponsor Annual value Manufacturer
Austin Gilgronis None Paladin Sports
Colorado Raptors None
Houston SaberCats Aveva[60] Undisclosed
New Orleans Gold Louisiana Tourism Undisclosed
Rugby United New York Murphy Kennedy Group
San Diego Legion None
Seattle Seawolves Krusteaz Undisclosed
Toronto Arrows Honda[60] Undisclosed
Utah Warriors Nui[60] Undisclosed
New England Free Jacks None
Old Glory DC Cuisine Solutions
Rugby ATL None

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Major League Rugby Welcomes New League Commissioner, George Killebrew". OurSports Central. December 9, 2019.
  2. ^ "Major League Rugby adds Fox and ESPN as TV partners - Americas Rugby News".
  3. ^ a b c d e "MLR 2020: LEAGUE FORMAT". Major League Rugby. July 13, 2019. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  4. ^ "Glendale Raptors Announce Team, Coaches, & Ticket Sales". djcoilrugby. January 29, 2018. Archived from the original on February 5, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  5. ^ "Questions And Concerns About MLR Draft | Goff Rugby Report".
  6. ^ "Major League Rugby Cancels 2020 Season & Returns in 2021 - djcoilrugby".
  7. ^ "Major League Rugby commissioner Dean Howes sees success where others failed - SportsPro Media".
  8. ^ "Dean Howes, Former Real Salt Lake CEO, Joins Rugby Utah" (Press release). Utah Rugby. August 24, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "Major League Rugby Coming in 2018". Americas Rugby News. February 13, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  10. ^ "Nine Teams Confirmed for Major League Rugby". Americas Rugby News. May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  11. ^ "Austin Huns Opt Out of Inaugural MLR Season" (Press release). Austin Huns. August 15, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  12. ^ "San Diego Join as Major League Rugby Eyes Rapid Expansion". Americas Rugby News. September 21, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  13. ^ "Major League Rugby: All you need to know about U.S. rugby's newest competition". ESPN. April 30, 2018. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Bristol, Jason (November 13, 2017). "Houston, rugby has landed; to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network". KHOU-TV. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  15. ^ Hamilton, Tom (April 20, 2018). "Major League Rugby: Inside rugby's latest attempt to crack America". ESPN. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  16. ^ "Rugby star Ma'a Nonu of New Zealand joins San Diego team". KSWB-TV. October 9, 2019. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  17. ^ "Rugby World Cup winner Beast Mtawarira joins Major League Rugby club Old Glory DC". ESPN.com. Reuters. December 19, 2019. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  18. ^ "MAJOR LEAGUE RUGBY SUSPENDS 2020 SEASON FOR 30 DAYS". Major League Rugby. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  19. ^ "Major League Rugby cancels remainder of 2020 campaign". Yahoo! Sports. AFP. March 19, 2020. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  20. ^ "Updated: Colorado Raptors withdraw from Major League Rugby". KUSA (TV). April 9, 2020. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  21. ^ "Major League Rugby welcomes Nonu and Ranger – but could say goodbye to Colorado | Sport | The Guardian".
  22. ^ "MAJOR LEAGUE RUGBY OFFICIALLY WELCOMES THE LA GILTINIS". Major League Rugby. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "MLR Introduces the Dallas Jackals". Major League Rugby. June 5, 2020.
  24. ^ a b c "CBS Sports Network Partners with MLR". Major League Rugby (Press release). November 6, 2017. Archived from the original on November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  25. ^ "Major League Rugby to add three new teams in 2020". ESPN.com. April 12, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  26. ^ Rowe, James (April 11, 2019). "Major League Rugby Announces New League Format For 2020". The Runner Sports. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  27. ^ Parkes, Geoff (May 6, 2018). "Why Major League Rugby could finally be the USA's game changer". The Roar. Archived from the original on November 13, 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  28. ^ a b "Major League Rugby nears kick-off as next attempt to make US a union power". The Guardian. UK. November 17, 2017. Archived from the original on November 19, 2017. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  29. ^ "Contact". Starfire Sports. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  30. ^ "Utah Warriors Announce Home Venue for the Major League Rugby Season". Utah Warriors. January 25, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  31. ^ "Major League Rugby confirms Boston and Atlanta for 2020". Americas Rugby News. September 21, 2018. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  32. ^ Mackel, Travers (August 30, 2019). "When Baby Cakes leave, what happens to "Shrine On Airline?'". WDSU. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  33. ^ "Washington DC team to enter Major League Rugby 'no later' than 2020". Major League Rugby. May 15, 2018. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  34. ^ a b "Major League Rugby expanding to 12 teams in 2020". www.americasrugbynews.com. April 1, 2019. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  35. ^ "IN ITS SECOND YEAR, MAJOR LEAGUE RUGBY FOCUSED ON THE LONG HAUL". MLR. April 12, 2019.
  36. ^ a b "Dallas and Los Angeles to join MLR in 2021". America's Rugby News. December 11, 2019.
  37. ^ "Major League Rugby Officially Welcomes The LA Giltinis". Major League Rugby. May 28, 2020.
  38. ^ Carroll, Rory (July 11, 2018). "Los Angeles to get professional rugby team in 2019". Reuters. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  39. ^ a b c "Major League Rugby welcomes Nonu and Ranger – but could say goodbye to Colorado". The Guardian. November 25, 2019.
  40. ^ "This Vancouver rugby dream is major league". The Province. January 9, 2018.
  41. ^ "MLR reveals Finals Locations and Expansion Plans". March 7, 2018.
  42. ^ "Halifax Wanderers' success has owner considering a pro rugby team". Atlantic. May 8, 2019.
  43. ^ "Hawaii-based team set to join Major League Rugby for 2021 · The42".
  44. ^ "Colorado Raptors Leave MLR Screen-capture".
  45. ^ "Updated: Colorado Raptors withdraw from Major League Rugby", 9News, Will Petersen, April 10, 2020.
  46. ^ a b c "Major League Rugby Announce Telecast Agreement with AT&T Sports Networks". MLR. February 5, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  47. ^ "Major league rugby". eyeonskyandairsports.blogspot.com.
  48. ^ a b "Major League Rugby and ESPN Announce Rights Agreement". MLR. March 20, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  49. ^ "Media partners". San Diego Legion. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  50. ^ "SNY and RUNY Announce Television Partnership". Rugby United New York. December 20, 2018.
  51. ^ "Rugby United New York Announces Expanded Television Coverage on NBC Sports Regional Networks". Rugby United NY.
  52. ^ "SKEDBALL: Weekly Sports TV Ratings 6.10-6.16.2019y". www.showbuzzdaily.com.
  53. ^ "Major League Rugby to launch with 9 teams". Rugby Today. May 8, 2017. Archived from the original on November 20, 2017.
  54. ^ "Major League Rugby announces XBlades as official apparel partner". Major League Rugby. December 20, 2017. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  55. ^ "Major League Rugby Announces Ram Rugby as Official Ball Sponsor". usmlr.com. February 7, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  56. ^ Major League Rugby Announces Impact Mouthguards as Sponsor "Major League Rugby Announces Impact Mouthguards as Sponsor". Major League Rugby. May 24, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  57. ^ "Seattle Seawolves receive championship rings ahead of MLR season 2 curtain-raiser". Major League Rugby. October 30, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  58. ^ "Major League Rugby Signs New On-Field Apparel Partnership with Paladin". Major League Rugby. October 28, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  59. ^ https://www.majorleague.rugby/news/major-league-rugby-partners-with-rhino-rugby-for-2020-season/
  60. ^ a b c Arnold, Tyler. "Major League Rugby Season Two Kits Unveiled".
  61. ^ "Americas Champions to Compete in MLR vs SLAR Fixture" (Press release). Americas Rugby News. December 12, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2020.

External links[edit]