Major League Rugby
Major League Rugby (MLR or USMLR) is a professional rugby union competition and the top-level championship for clubs in North America. In the 2020 season it will be contested by twelve teams: eleven from the United States and one from Canada. Officially sanctioned by USA Rugby, which is a member union of Rugby Americas North (RAN), and consequently part of World Rugby, the league was founded in 2017, and is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
|Most recent season or competition:|
2020 Major League Rugby season
|No. of teams||12|
|Countries||United States (11 teams)|
Canada (1 team)
|Headquarters||Salt Lake City, Utah, United States|
|Seattle Seawolves (2nd title)|
|Most titles||Seattle Seawolves (2 titles)|
With its initial beginnings as part of established amateur rugby clubs in major North American urban areas, MLR began its first season in 2018 as an initiative of the American rugby community in partnership with private investors. Three further American clubs, Atlanta, Boston and Washington D.C., will begin play in 2020.
In September 2016, with at least five amateur rugby union clubs across the United States discussing a possible professional league, Dean Howes, who had previously been an executive with Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League, stepped in as senior strategic advisor for Rugby Utah in an attempt to provide a pathway for expanding professional rugby stateside.
By February 2017, a total of nine amateur rugby union organizations including the Austin Huns, Dallas Griffins, Glendale Raptors, Houston Strikers, Kansas City Blues, Minneapolis, New Orleans RFC, Rugby Utah and the Seattle Saracens, announced their intentions to form a professional league to begin play the following year.
On August 15, 2017, the Austin Huns announced that it would opt-out of MLR in favor of allowing a newly-branded spinoff, the Austin Elite compete in the league. The Houston Strikers rebranded themselves as the Houston SaberCats. Whereas the elite players of New Orleans, Utah, and Seattle became the New Orleans Gold, Utah Warriors, and Seattle Seawolves respectively, interests in Minneapolis were replaced by the San Diego Legion. With Kansas City and Dallas still in planning stages, the league continued as seven members for its inaugural season.
On November 6, 2017, Major League Rugby and CBS Sports Network announced a multi-year television partnership which marked MLR's first major television deal for broadcast rights. It was the first time in American history that a new sporting league had a national television deal prior to launch.
Early seasons and rapid expansion
In late April 2019, RUNY announced the signing of French international Mathieu Bastareaud which is seen as a major coup for the league, since Bastereaud is a current French international and world-class player, making him by far the most prominent player in the league at that time.
Major League Rugby spans five months from February through to the end of June. The 2019 regular season was a double round-robin with all clubs playing each other home and away. Each team played sixteen games, half of them at home. This was followed by a postseason for the top four teams consisting of two semi-final matches and the Championship Game to determine the season's MLR champion team.
For the 2020 season, MLR will change to a conference format. Both conferences, the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, will consist of six teams: Seattle, San Diego, Utah, Colorado, Austin and Houston in the west and existing teams New Orleans, New York, and Toronto to be joined by 2020 newcomers Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New England in the east. Each team will play a double round-robin within their conference in addition to playing six games against teams from the other conference, for a total of 16 regular-season games. The postseason will consist of the top three teams from each conference: a wildcard game between the second and third ranked teams, followed by a playoff game between the wildcard winner and the first ranked team in the conference. The resulting playoff winners from each conference will then face off in the league championship. The season is scheduled to start on February 8, 2020.
The league is structured as a closed system and, similar to other American sports leagues, does not have promotion and relegation. It operates as a single entity similar to Major League Soccer, with each team or "franchise" owned by the league and the franchise operators owning a share of the league.
- Dell Diamond is located in Round Rock, Texas, which is a part of the Greater Austin metro area.
- Infinity Park is in Glendale, Colorado, a home rule municipality in the Denver metropolitan area.
- Starfire Stadium is in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Washington.
- Zions Bank Stadium is in Herriman, Utah, located within the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.
- The Gold Mine, also known as Shrine on Airline, is in Metairie, Louisiana, on the East Bank of the New Orleans metropolitan area.
The expansion franchise fee is US$4 million as of 2019. In November 2019, the only expansion team mentioned by the league is to be based in Dallas, although no other information on the team has been announced. In December 2019, another new team proposed for 2021 called Loyals Rugby, based in Los Angeles, was announced at the press conference introducing new commissioner George Killebrew.
Current Members Previous Team Name
In July 2018, an ownership group in Los Angeles announced its intentions to join in the 2019 season as LA Coast Rugby, but the bid was ultimately rejected. An Australian ownership group has been approved to field a team in Los Angeles with a 2021 start date called the Los Angeles Loyals. An owner in Vancouver, British Columbia, announced intentions to add a team to MLR for the 2019 season, but also never went further. Columbus, Ohio, which previously had a team in PRO Rugby, nearly became home to a relocated Austin Herd in the 2020 season. The owner of the HFX Wanderers FC soccer team also stated he had been in talks with the league for an expansion team. In December 2019, former RC Toulon majority owner Mourad Boudjellal apparently discussed making a bid for a team in Miami.
- By year
|Champion||Score||Runner-up||Higher seeded||Lower seeded|
|2018||7||Seattle Seawolves||23–19||Glendale Raptors||San Diego Legion||Utah Warriors|
|2019||9||Seattle Seawolves||26–23||San Diego Legion||Toronto Arrows||Rugby United New York|
- By team
|Seattle Seawolves||2 (2018, 2019)||0|
|Colorado Raptors||0||1 (2018)|
|San Diego Legion||0||1 (2019)|
Major League Rugby players are generally drawn from North American clubs, although teams are allowed to sign up to ten overseas players.
- MLR season
|Player of the Year||Forward of the Year||Back of the Year||Coach of the Year|
- MLR championship
|MVP of the Championship Match||MVP of the Championship Series|
The CBS Sports Network televises 13 matches nationally over the course of the season. This includes a Game of the Week during each of the 10 rounds of the MLR regular season along with all three post-season matches. Live streaming is also available through the CBS Sports Network streaming platforms. Dan Power(Play By Play) , Brian Hightower (Color Analyst) and Stacy Paetz (Sideline) were the CBS Sports commentators for the 2019 season. The remaining games are available on ESPN properties and regional sports networks.
ESPN has the national and international rights to an 18-game package covering regular season matches to audiences across its various platforms.
AT&T Sports Networks have a 17-game package covering six of the seven MLR teams for games not broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Home-and-away matches for Austin, Houston and New Orleans are carried on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. Seattle's matches are carried on Root Sports Northwest and all Colorado and Utah games are hosted on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain.
San Diego has a separate local rights agreement for their market with all the Legion's home-and-away MLR games that are not on the CBS Sports Network being televised locally on Channel 4 YurView California.
Rugby United New York announced regional television partnership with SNY, which will televise nine games of RUNY's inaugural season (2019), with the premiere game airing LIVE Sunday, January 27 at 5:00 PM EST. Also, NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports Philadelphia+ will join SNY in televising match coverage of eight remaining games, beginning Saturday February 16 at 3 PM EST when RUNY travels to face the NOLA Gold. The partnership with the NBC Sports Regional Networks expands RUNY's TV market into two key East Coast markets.
The 2019 Championship game was broadcast on CBS, the first MLR game to be televised on free-to-air TV. It gained a 0.32 Sports TV rating which equated to 510,000 two-plus-person households.
Top five attendances for Major League Rugby games (all time, from 2018 onward):
|1||6,000||San Diego Legion vs Seattle Seawolves (Final)||2019-06-16||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|2||4,500||San Diego Legion vs Rugby United New York (Semi-Final)||2019-06-09||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|3||4,175||San Diego Legion vs New Orleans Gold||2019-06-02||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|4||4,000||Glendale Raptors vs Seattle Seawolves||2019-05-18||2||Infinity Park||Glendale, CO|
|5||3,800||Seattle Seawolves vs Austin Elite||2019-06-02||2||Starfire Stadium||Seattle, WA|
|3,800||Seattle Seawolves vs Utah Warriors||2019-05-26||2||Starfire Stadium||Seattle, WA|
The highest attended non-competition game by an MLR team was a pre-season clash between Utah Warriors and Glendale Raptors, 31 March 2018, which drew 9,186 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
- George Killebrew (2019–present)
- Dean Howes (2016–2019)
The league signed a multi-year partnership deal with XBlades in 2017 to supply all jersey/kit apparel for each MLR team and all match officials. The MLR also announced Ram Rugby as the official ball supplier. In May 2018, via Instagram, MLR announced Impact Custom Mouth Guards as the official mouth guard of the league.
On October 28, 2019, Major League Rugby announced that, starting for the 2020 season, Paladin Sports will be the new supplier of all uniforms/kit for the league.
|Austin Herd||None||Paladin Sports|
|New Orleans Gold||Louisiana Tourism||Undisclosed|
|Rugby United New York||Murphy Kennedy Group|
|San Diego Legion||None|
|New England Free Jacks||None|
|Old Glory DC||Cuisine Solutions|
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- Mackel, Travers (August 30, 2019). "When Baby Cakes leave, what happens to "Shrine On Airline?'". WDSU. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
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- Carroll, Rory (July 11, 2018). "Los Angeles to get professional rugby team in 2019". Reuters. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
- "Major League Rugby welcomes Nonu and Ranger – but could say goodbye to Colorado". The Guardian. November 25, 2019.
- "This Vancouver rugby dream is major league". The Province. January 9, 2018.
- "MLR reveals Finals Locations and Expansion Plans". March 7, 2018.
- "Halifax Wanderers' success has owner considering a pro rugby team". Atlantic. May 8, 2019.
- "Major League Rugby Announce Telecast Agreement with AT&T Sports Networks". MLR. 2018-02-05. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
- "Major league rugby". eyeonskyandairsports.blogspot.com.
- "Major League Rugby and ESPN Announce Rights Agreement". MLR. 2018-03-20. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
- "Media partners". San Diego Legion. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
- "SNY and RUNY Announce Television Partnership". Rugby United New York. 2018-12-20.
- "Rugby United New York Announces Expanded Television Coverage on NBC Sports Regional Networks". Rugby United NY.
- "SKEDBALL: Weekly Sports TV Ratings 6.10-6.16.2019y". www.showbuzzdaily.com.
- "Major League Rugby to launch with 9 teams". Rugby Today. 2017-05-08. Archived from the original on 2017-11-20.
- "Major League Rugby announces XBlades as official apparel partner". Major League Rugby. 2017-12-20. Retrieved 2018-02-05.
- "Major League Rugby Announces Ram Rugby as Official Ball Sponsor". usmlr.com. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
- Major League Rugby Announces Impact Mouthguards as Sponsor "Major League Rugby Announces Impact Mouthguards as Sponsor". Major League Rugby. 2018-05-24. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
- "Major League Rugby Signs New On-Field Apparel Partnership with Paladin". Major League Rugby. 2019-10-28. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
- Arnold, Tyler. "Major League Rugby Season Two Kits Unveiled".
- US Major League Rugby official website