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The debut of Major League Rugby (MLR) will occur this April with seven teams, which will play a twelve game schedule followed by a four-team play off for the championship. CBS Sports will air a "Game of the Week" on one of its network platforms. In the wings to join MLR in 2019, awaiting the outcome of this inaugural 2018 season, are new teams coming potentially from Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, etc.
Assume by 2020 that MLR can grow to twenty American and Canadian sides. What sports model should it emulate in 2018 and onwards to draw in fans during the season?
Judgmentally, the answer is Minor League Baseball (MiLB).
The MLR teams will need to build a local fan base and one way to accomplish this is to pursue commercial ideas that go beyond offering professional rugby. This is the MiLB model, a successful; multi-generational sports entity that recognizes the importance of "event" marketing. MiLB offers the baseball game but also comprises in-stadium promotions that include:
- Theme nights;
- Community oriented programs;
- Merchandise offers and product giveaways;
- On field contests; and,
- Other fan-pleasing ideas
The objective is to attract attendees interested in the rugby, but also market to friends and family members who are attracted to the promotions.
At the end of each MiLB season, the parent and major organization of affiliated clubs, selects the Best Promotions from its 161 teams, sorted by category. The MLR clubs should try to acquire a copy of this report to learn what worked well.
Mascots are not be overlooked, providing a fun experience for children and exhorting the crowd.
Finally, MLR needs to secure local partnerships, bartering stadium signage and program advertising for added team community publicity.
In net, one path to a dynamic MLR launch is to pursue ideas and promotions successfully achieved by MiLB.
(NB: I am the co-author with MiLB team owner Art Solomon, of the 2012 book "Making It in the Minors" available on McFarland, the publisher's website, and also on Amazon. Photo above is Ollie, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats' bat dog.)