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Seven teams will participate in Major League Rugby’s inaugural season in the coming months, and there are talks of others joining in 2019, including north of the border in Ontario and Vancouver. Rugby Today has confirmed another will join the party in 2019. Tentatively named “Rugby Club New York”, the MLR is coming to the Big Apple.
James Kennedy, the chairman of the New York MLR club, is an Irishman with an extensive rugby background, coming to the USA in 1999 and playing club rugby stateside for several years. He went on sponsor the Landsdowne RFC in New York City after he retired.
When the Pro 14 considered expansion to the United States, they reached out to Kennedy for help in the New York area. He did the homework, looked at the data, and ran the numbers, but ultimately decided against establishing a club in New York.
“I liked all the data we got and found some really good stuff about growing rugby in America, especially in the [New York] region, but I didn’t like what Pro 12 wanted to do,” Kennedy said. “After six months, I turned them down.”
“Shortly thereafter, MLR got in touch and we really liked what they were offering,” Kennedy continued. “They had already done the data and research and already had staff on it. [MLR] was being conservative, realistic, and organic. We liked it all, but had questions about salary cap and parity. That was five or six months ago, and we proceeded to negotiate during that time. It was a quick match-up.
“Now, we are signed and on board. We got brought in about a month ago in a board meeting down in Houston. We are playing in 2019. I asked for a year to build a team out of all the clubs in New York. We are board members and part of the MLR.”
Kennedy, with the integral help of Nishant Nereyeth, is expected to officially announce the club in January with a press release and social media campaign to celebrate the founding of the team. The club logo and name will be finalized in the New Year. The local clubs of the New York City area have been incredibly supportive of the new entity.
“They have been fantastic and absolutely amazing. [Old Blue and NYAC] couldn’t possibly have done more for me. The dialogue has been open with them giving me access to their coaches, personnel, and players. Talking with Landsdowne, New York Rugby Club, the Village Lions and Brooklyn [has proved to be beneficial for us].”
Establishing an MLR team in New York hasn’t been easy.
“Doing business in New York is expensive. The cost of operations in New York as opposed to any other city in the States is tremendous. It’s been a major hurdle. Finding a facility/stadium, everything associated with the business end has been a hurdle.”
Kennedy said they have a venue lined up for the club, but would not indicate where because negotiations are ongoing. He also focused on giving back to the rugby community in New York.
“We would funnel everything back to the clubs and promote the game to make the two powerhouses [of Old Blue and NYAC] better and deeper. We would work with them to build an underage structure in New York where we desperately need to. Also, bring up other clubs, like the Village Lions, New York, Brooklyn, etc. to the same level.
“My dream is that you have a Division I in the New York area. With the population of eight million people and the number of expats and colleges, I don’t see that as a problem. The number of colleges pumping out better players year in and year out is astonishing. There is no reason we can’t continue to grow the game.”
Looking to the future of MLR, expansion across the East is being explored.
“In the long-term future, we believe there should be a Northeast conference and over time establish rivalries. Up in Boston, I’ve talked to the main three clubs (Boston, Boston Irish, and Mystic River) a lot and pushing them along to get into the MLR in 2019 or 2020. Toronto is trying to get in for 2019. Chicago, DC, and Philly are coming along.”
In anticipation of the 2019 start, the Rugby Club New York will play a few exhibition games and scrimmages this spring. They will test their might against a Boston area select side as well as the Ontario Arrows.
“We’re contacting players, talking to coaches,” said Kennedy. “We got some great CVs in for coaching and general managers from all over the world, as well as for players.”