In 2016, the United States finally had its first taste of professional domestic rugby in the Pro Rugby competition.
This was the first World Rugby sanctioned league in the US. It was also highly touted as the solution to the United States’ struggle in international rugby. After the inaugural season, however, the league folded. The issue with funding, not only in the administration but with player contracts, ended up being the final blow to the league. But it struggled in many areas, fan attendance being one of them.
While the folding of the league hurt the mindsets of American rugby fans, it was not the last chance.
Currently in the making and with competition planned to start in April of 2018, is the MLR or Major League Rugby. The MLR solves some of the main problems that contributed to the failure of Pro Rugby. It also endeavours to promote a high level of rugby.
Solving the issues
Firstly, MLR does not try to simply create teams unexpectedly. The MLR is using teams that have been historically dominant in American club rugby and simply making them professional. These clubs will not have to struggle to find the facilities to use and base players to fill spots. These teams are based in Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Glendale, Seattle, and Utah. They not only have a history of success but also have established academies and rugby facilities to keep the level high and crowds happy.
Secondly, they are organised. These organisations are the owners of the larger entity meaning that all are independent and a part of MLR instead of being owned by MLR. This allows the individual teams to keep the head organisation accountable and not let it be a dictator as the Pro Rugby office was.
Lastly, they are realistic. MLR isn’t going into this expecting massive turnouts, huge funding, and 5-star facilities. While the teams did have to prove a financial ability to support a team, they didn’t expect millions in a budget and massive stadiums. The MLR simply set minimum standards for their home market of attendance.
Even with the low expected pay, the MLR has not failed to sign big name players. Fijian 7s star Oscar Kolinisau, American stars Paddy Ryan and Shalom Suniula, and Canadian captain Ray Barkwill are all onboard.
Due to the organic process of starting the league and a sound organisation, American Rugby fans finally have something to be excited about. For me, this is the key and why I am confident this attempt will be the one.
Author: Connor Wilkins
I grew up in Alabama in the US and have played for the past 8 years starting with the Birmingham Vulcans then to Spring Hill College where I recently served as forwards coach. I love northern hemisphere rugby and I write mostly about American rugby and pack play.