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The ninth and final team has been added for Major League Rugby's second season, set to kickoff in just under three months, as Major League Rugby announced the inclusion of the Toronto Arrows Friday. The league also announced D.C. will officially be joining for the 2020 season, joining the New England FreeJacks and a yet-to-be-named Atlanta team.
Toronto's official inclusion appears to be the hurdle that needs clearing before MLR can roll out its 2019 schedule. The Arrows have long been rumored and expected to be in for the upcoming season, having played an exhibition season in the spring and beaten the FreeJacks in a friendly last month. The most surprising part of their announcement might be the rebranding from Ontario to Toronto.
“We are thrilled to officially expand the League to Washington, D.C., and Toronto,” said Dean Howes, Commissioner of MLR. “Each team’s leadership has demonstrated their ability to positively affect their community, and we look forward to watching their top-tier talent on-field.”
The Arrows are owned by an ownership group including Bill Webb, Boat Rocker Sports, a division of Boat Rocker Media, Brian Burke (Rogers Sportsnet Analyst and former President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs), Duncan McNaughton (Rugby Canada National Senior Women’s XV scrum coach), Kevin Reed of AR3 Capital, John Ferraro of Mass Marketing Inc. as well as creative strategy and design leaders, Doubleday & Cartwright.
“Our Arrows investor group, staff and in particular, our very dedicated players, have been thrilled with the strong support we have received from rugby fans of all ages from coast to coast, our commercial sponsors, governing bodies (Rugby Canada and Rugby Ontario), volunteers and our very patient families,” Webb continued. “The advent of professional rugby in Canada and the United States is a watershed event for the growth and development of the sport we love and is an integral link that has been missing on the ‘rugby pathway’ in North America.”
Arrows Vice-President and General Manager, Mark Winokur, who has served for many years as manager of the six-time Canadian Rugby Championship winners, the Ontario Blues, and of the Rugby Canada National Senior Men’s team said, “The Arrows are committed to playing a high-tempo, physical and entertaining style of rugby that will excite current rugby fans and draw new fans to the game. In short - Real. Canadian. Rugby. We look forward to competing in the seasons ahead.”
The D.C. team got MLR's stamp of approval months ago, but it hadn't been revealed whether they'd join in 2019 or 2020. They're owned by former Eagle Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey. Both are well entrenched members of the D.C. rugby community.
“We couldn’t be happier to bring professional rugby to DC,” Dunlavey said. “Our work over the last ten months has shown that the market is ready for MLR and that we have a plan for success that will make our region proud.”