You are here

The continuing interest in Major League Rugby both at home and abroad bodes well for the USA's second attempt to launch a professional rugby league that is both popular and profitable.

The inaugural season witnessed seven clubs participating, all west of the Mississippi River. The final was held in San Diego where Seattle defeated Glendale in front of a crowd of 2,800.

New city-based teams have signed up for the 2019 season (New York and Ontario) with others looking to start in 2020 (Atlanta and Boston). Discussions are ongoing in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Chicago about joining MLR in the future.

How many rugby clubs could expand the league? A speculative answer might exist in the 23-city Major League Soccer founded in 1993, which runs an East (11 teams) and West (12 teams) conference. Included are smaller sports markets like Columbus, Orlando City, Montreal, Vancouver, and San Jose. The league averaged 22,132 spectators in 2018, including a spectacular 52,273 home game average by the Atlanta club. On the bottom end is the Columbus Crew with a 12,000 average home attendance.

MLR adheres to the established arrangement of individual club ownership (mainly, local) that follows the historic format, which originated in England soccer football in the 1870s. The city-based club concept spread worldwide, initially with soccer, and then developing with baseball in the United States.

Note that MLR's set-up contrasts with PRO Rugby, the previous professional attempt, which featured one owner controlling the league and its five clubs.  MLR's multi ownership model has expanded, perhaps geometrically, the current and future involvement of the local rugby community. The city-based MLR organization is the familiar model in Europe for all sports and that is a prominent reason for its appeal to British and French rugby entities.

Everyone at home or abroad wants to see the MLR succeed. The question to be answered down the line is whether the league can generate attendance numbers and television viewership that engender a profit?