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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What Is Major League Rugby?


What is Major League Rugby? News of the competition has been bubbling around the American rugby community for awhile and then during the Eagles-Brazil match on Saturday commentator Dallen Stanford mentioned the competition. But what is it?

Major League Rugby is an outgrowth of this year's Major Rugby Championship, which is a loose tournament featuring the Austin Huns, Glendale Raptors, Rugby Utah, and New Orleans. Still, one point of confusion for fans is over the name. Last year an organization calling themselves Major League Rugby came out announcing they were going to launch a competition and talked trash about PRO Rugby but then nothing happened. Apparently the teams behind the Major Rugby Championship have acquired the name Major League Rugby and will be using that in the future (it's separate from the MRC from what we can tell).

Take the jump to read more.
The teams in the competition include Glendale, Rugby Utah, New Orleans, and the Huns, all from the MRC, along with the Chicago Lions, Dallas Griffins, the Houston Strikers, and the Seattle Saracens. According to rugby sage Grant Cole all of the clubs have developed commercial entities that will run the respective pro teams. Additionally, according to Cole, "these organizations will actually OWN the competition as an LLC, which means each team’s success is dependent on everyone succeeding."

From what TIAR stands there is still a lot under discussion and nothing is final. We've heard from multiple people that the groups mentioned in the competition above have reached out to teams from California. It's still up in the air what happens or even if the teams mentioned above make it into the final version. For example, the Griffins had to pull back from the MRC this year while the Seattle Saracens have made it very clear that they love playing in the BC Premier League. That doesn't mean they aren't interested in playing in MLR but there are reasons why they may not.

It's hard to say whether the new venture will work or not given the lack of details. On the one hand there is something to be said of clubs growing organically and using their existing structures to pursue professional rugby. On the other hand, travel costs should be pretty heavy for each team. At least in PRO Rugby three of the five teams could bus to over half of their matches. In MLR only a handful of teams could do that and unless each club has deep pockets they could lose a million dollars a year. Unless they can break even quickly those losses could mount up quickly.

Additionally, MLR on the surface seems like a resurrection of the Super League but with professional players. The Super League eventually faded because clubs couldn't keep up with the costs. Unless teams in MLR have the budget to get good facilities (most play in parks at the moment) and advertise the hell out of themselves (it costs a lot) it's hard to see them being more than the old Super League expect with higher player costs. Again, it's all up in the air but these are the first whisperings.



16 comments:

  1. There's been mention of sponsor interest. Notably AIG. I think the ability to successfully being sponsors on board will be key in covering things like travel, facilities hire and promotion.

    A reasonable model to use is that of the NRC in Australia. A competition that operates with many of the same issues as the MLR are mpst notably large distances and tight budgetary concerns.

    Travelling in Australia is an hassle in itself in terms of distance and is not cheap. Yet they run their entire 11 weeks season for $1.5m.

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  2. Part of the whisperings covered yesterday by Grant Cole on his TITR FB Live show, was that a major sponsor for the league was potentially in the works. No word as to who that is, but if they come on, I would imagine that travel costs would become less of an issue. Of course it could just be a sponsorship that takes care of viewing options and/or Marketing for the MLR as a whole.

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    1. Early days, Troy.

      Did I really whisper it?

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    2. I wouldn't say "whisper" except in the context of scuttlebutt being dispensed.

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  3. This venture is touting itself as the premiere rugby competition in its Facebook page yet just like the NRFL (with whom Cole was aligned) there is a tremendous shortage of details. Since it is MLR that is touting itself as the premiere competition in this country it is reasonable to ask for specific details; none of which are available on their Facebook page or website.


    The rugby community has been led down this path twice before. The NRFL has been all talk and PRO would appear to have been done in by a host of reasons. If this venture is going to tout itself as the next big thing then the rugby community should ask fair but serious questions and this enterprise should be prepared to answer those questions with a high degree of specificity and act in a highly transparent manner.


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    1. I was never "aligned" with the NRFL, just in conversations with them and hoping then (as I hope now) that a professional rugby competition would emerge as a commercial sports enterprise.

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    2. The website mlrrugby.com amd the attached fb page are not affiliated with this league. They belong to a defunct effort.

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  4. Everyone keeps saying that businesses should operate in a highly transparent manner. Why? Does a private entity owe you, a non-member, anything? Frankly, it's a bit preposterous to suggest they should be highly transparent. Should they market and advertise and get the word out about what they are doing? Yes. But that is different from transparency.

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    1. I could not have said this any better. They are not a Union that these people are members of. They owe the public zero transparency except what is required by law. Which is very little.

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    2. I'm not asking for transparency as much as I'm asking for actual marketing, leaking info and then not backing it up allows you to lose the news cycle and interest.

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  5. Any one go on Shark Tank yet? This may be a Mark Cuban type investment.

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  6. If you ask me, every previous competitive organization that has folded, has done so because they have tried to create rugby fans in markets where there aren't rugby fans. The bulk of successful College 15s and Men's DI/DII Club teams are located in the West. Tempe, BYU, Cal, SFGG, Glendale, Abq, Belmont Shore, Provo Steelers, UVU, ASU, Univ of AZ, etc etc etc. The Eastern US is all about 7s (Dartmouth, Army, Navy to name a few). Any successful Professional Rugby Organization will have to recognize that. However, a team in New England made up of Ivy Leaguers and 7s cross trainers would be awesome. Heck, even allowing Military Rugby teams to compete would bring in fans nationwide. Additionally, many Police and Fire Departments have Rugby teams. Imagine Glendale squaring off against NYPD, or Belmont Shore vs the US Army. I would travel to the East Coast to go to those games in a heartbeat! As far as finding appropriate venues for the crowds that any organization would hope to consistently sell out, Colorado has amazing facilities, UNLV has proven it can handle rugby, and Rio Tinto Stadium has been the home of the College Championships for years.

    I guess what I'm mostly saying is this: Stop trying to form the NFL by first creating the Super Bowl.

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  7. Opening opportunities to the Armed Forces is a very interesting option. My question is, would they be interested in pursuing professional sports?

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    1. I would say so.

      1)Strategic placement of military branches in conferences/divisions would allow the military to still host annual inter-branch matches, creating a competitive story line that fans with military ties can identify with.

      2) The military could recognize the chance to use it as a way to showcase opportunities for personnel within the branch itself. Members of the military are paid a wage as-is, so the money issue wouldn't be a conflict (treat is as a specialty and add on a small bump in pay). Revenue that comes in throughout the season could be used to fund uniforms, facilities, and to give back to Veteran oriented charities.

      3) There have been a large number of athletes that have had their service commitments waved as a result of moving into professional sports after graduation from a service academy (Keenan Reynolds is a recent example). Having a service team would allow athletes to compete on a high level, while allowing the military to gain a return on their investment of putting the athlete through a service academy.

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    2. Hmm...would be interesting to see if there would be any interest.

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