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The pre-season debut of Major League Rugby (MLR) turned out to be a success as 5,300 fans passed through the turnstiles at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, where the home side, the Houston Saber Cats, defeated the visiting Seattle Saracens. This marked the first of 12 exhibition games for the Saber Cats before the official league start on April 21.

MLR will represent the second attempt at a USA professional rugby league, coming two-years after PRO made its five-city debut, and lasted for one season. This time around there are seven sides as follows:

Houston Saber Cats

NOLA Gold

Utah Warriors

Glendale Raptors

San Diego Legion

Austin Elite Rugby

Seattle Sea Wolves

The season will comprise 12-games, ending with a four-team playoff for the championship.

CBS will air a “Game of the Week,” on one of its channels.

The near sell out in Texas last Saturday parallels the previous first game PRO debuts when some 4,000 fans attended venues in the five cities. However, after that initial experience, attendance dropped substantially, and PRO ended up with a 1,700 per-game average, significantly below what the League needed to break even.

However, the relevant difference in the organization between MLR and PRO is that the former is a bottom up concept, the seven cities having found local investors to own and sponsor the individual clubs as opposed to PRO, a top down initiative financed and controlled by one person.

In the forthcoming months, Houston will welcome well known rugby clubs like the Chicago Lions, NYAC, and Mystic River to play in Texas.

It’s a long time to July and the assessment of MLR’s first season. But week one proved promising, at least for one team.