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.

Connor Wilkins

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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting insight. How easy will it be for other teams to buy into this league if they reach the minimum standards you mention? Also how large could the league grow before its structures become unwieldy and the season too long?

  2. It’s actually pretty easy. There are already multiple teams planning to join such as Toronto, Kansas City, and Chicago. They are already planning expansion after the first season. In terms of growth I think they will wait to make that decision and hopefully take some hints from the premiership and have promotion relegation. But only time will tell

  3. Professional rugby is a noble goal. It can be successful in the long run. It’s need is great. The timing is right. The NFL has never been more vulnerable. The example of US soccer is a good measuring stick. It will take time. Getting rugby printed in any US sports news publication is a challenge. Nationally, only the NY Times, puts rugby articles in the paper on a quarterly basis.

    But the only way rugby is truly going to take hold in the US, is to get rugby introduced in US the public school elementary schools and high schools. Jesuit schools lead the nation in rugby across the land. No need to go there. As we all know, the athletic directors of each public school in question, are both friends and supporters of their wrestling, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, and track coaches. There is no way in hell the collective cronyism is going to support rugby in schools for both men and women, whereby their best athletes get plucked away to the new are curiously amazing sport that is rugby. Unfortunately, that is the case today in the US. Without widespread lower level grass roots participation in rugby here in the US, the professional US rugby leagues will come and go. The fact is, we are not a rugby nation yet.

  4. I could not agree more. It all starts at the youth level. If I hadn’t started when I was young I would not have gotten this far. And as for the Jesuit schools I can personally attest to that being that I am currently enrolled in a Jesuit college that offers scholarships for rugby.

  5. Fine. Don’t mention the clubs that taught you everything you know in you bio. It’s cool. We don’t mind.

    Also, you forgot to mention the CBS broadcast deal

  6. I think the US is heading into the right direction. They got Sir Graham Henry setting up workshop around the country, they got scouts talking to former NFL players, and they are targeting the Pacific Island community by forming a US Pacific Island rugby team, which will have lasting legacy in decades to come. However, here is some ideas I feel could also help:

    *Community colleges and 4 year universities should work closely with local top clubs to create pathways for young players .

    *The American collegiate rugby IS an untapped resource for the whole rugby family, and they should add in universities from different countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Fiji. I have argued before that the under 20’s development program is useless in certain countries such as Fiji, as it has no strong purpose or meaning to keep young Fijians focused compared to the American college rugby models, where scholarship, determination to play and get better, better support from the government, huge following of fans, and stronger networking to top clubs is possible.

    *More international matchs such as the All Blanks vs Ireland be played in Chicago and Fiji vs Samoa in BayArea California should become a yearly thing.

    *Lastly, the US, like sevens, should host the Junior under 20’s rugby world cup every three years, as it could entice more high school students to get involved in rugby and know it’s a global sports. Reasons why the US should be given such special hosting every three years? Well, France may have the riches clubs. Australia and New Zealand may have the talents, but Uncle Sam has both plus the most powerful tool to make rugby global, Social Media.

    I conclude in this four points for now. Thank you. Let’s go eargles !!

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