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Rugby clubs are always looking for ways to legitimize themselves. Their own field, their own clubhouse, a regular source of income can all attract players and, ultimately, dollars.

But not every club looks to get into the landlord business. In Chicago, the Chicago Lions have done just that. The club operates a small apartment complex on the Northwest side of the city, providing one clubmember with a job as building manager, a source of rental income for the club, and a place for new players to stay.

It all started in the 1970s, when the club leadership was foresighted enough to raise donations to buy a small apartment building. The club operated that building and, later, a pub on North Avenue. But running a tavern “isn’t necessarily the road to financial success,” said current president Kevin Brown, who rejoined the club in 2006.

Pubs can be a bit of a headache, so Brown convinced the club to sell the old apartment building and the rights to the pub, and rolled the proceeds into buying the new seven-unit building on Milwaukee Avenue.

Five units are rented by families and individuals not associated with the club. Lion Matt Priest lives in one unit and runs the building as his job, and one multi-room unit is used for players.

“We use it for players who are new to the club or who come here for the summer,” explained Brown. “We made the decision some years ago that we weren’t going to spend money to recruit players from overseas, but we could provide some incentives to all the college players around the Midwest who want to play for us.”

Currently the apartment houses collegiate Rocco Mauer, Nick Viviani, Matt Harrington and Peter Tiberio. Those players pay their club dues and share of travel costs, but get a rent-free apartment for the summer.

Similarly, players new to the city during the 15s season can stay in the apartment for as long as three months while they get settled in, find a job, and find a more permanent home. It’s an excellent transition point for young players, said Brown, and is a much better recruiting tool than a club-run pub.

“They come in and have a place to live and can become part of the community,” said Brown. “It brings some income in for the club, and we’re able to also support our sevens program. But it’s all due to the legacy of the club leadership in the ‘70s. Had they not thought to raise the $30,000 back then, we wouldn’t be in this position now.”