Major League Rugby will launch its inaugural three-month regular season in April, with teams in seven cities that will play a 10-week schedule. Those cities — Austin (Texas), Houston, Glendale (Colo.), New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle and Salt Lake City (Utah) — are known for their long history of supporting the game, according to league officials, and each team will feature up to five international signings. And that means event planners may want to be ready for renewed interest in the game, which could translate into even more events.
“Across all media in the [United States], there is a growing awareness of rugby, an appetite just because the game has an ongoing clock, it has a great deal of appeal, it’s constant action,” MLR Commissioner Dean Howes told the paper in November. “This sport needs a destination for it to become relevant here in the U.S. It needs to have that crown at the top, so young players, whether youth or high school or university or club, have a place that they can aspire to get to. We’re trying to create that. Our goals and our objectives are almost a mirror image of the goals and the objectives of USA Rugby or the World Rugby organization. We’re here to build this sport in the United States.”
Indeed, the sport is known for community activism and grassroots involvement, according to The Seattle Times, which recently reported that the Seattle Seawolves — one of MLR’s inaugural teams — by early March had sold half of the seats in the 4,000-seat Starfire Sports complex in Tukwila, Wash., where the Seawolves will play four home games. Season tickets run from $99 to $129, with single-game tickets costing between $19 and $39, and as low as $9 for children 12 and under. There’s even a family section. The goal is to sell out each game.
“We think we have what it takes to grow this thing,” Shane Skinner, who owns a local technology company and is one of about two dozen investors in the Seawolves, told the paper. “You watch and see. People are going to love it.”
Meanwhile, the Houston SaberCats began their inaugural MLR season at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. But plans unveiled in February call for a private company to build a new rugby field inside the Houston Sports Park, according to Houston’s NBC-TV affiliate. Mayor Sylvester Turner said a new parking lot at the multipurpose facility will be financed by a bond passed in 2012.
MLR’s exhibition season began the weekend of March 10-11, and the regular season starts the weekend of April 21-22.
Last month, MLR announced that at least one new team will join the league in 2019. Rugby United New York, New York’s first professional rugby team, will play an exhibition schedule in 2018 before playing a full MLR schedule beginning in 2019. ”Expanding to the East Coast is an important step for MLR, and New York is a great market for professional rugby,” Howe said in a statement.
The CBS Sports Network is slated to televisea Game of the Week plus` two weeks of postseason coverage — including the first MLR Championship Game on July 7.