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Sports This Week - New league effort changing sport landscape

In my first column of 2018 I reflected on some of the more interesting events which could make this year memorable.

In my first column of 2018 I reflected on some of the more interesting events which could make this year memorable.

Sprinkled among the possible events are potentially significant steps toward new sport leagues in North America, and no folks I was not talking about Vince McMahon relaunching his previous one-year blunder the XFL.

No I am more intrigued by efforts to bring sports to the professional ranks which we have not seen in North America, at least not recently.

Launching a new sport at the pro level on this continent is not an easy task.

The North American Soccer League launched in 1968, took chances such as signing aging Brazilian star Pele, but folded in 1984. Some of the team names survive in Major League Soccer today, and the MLS seems to be setting solid roots in cities across the continent now, as raucous fans in Toronto, and 70,000 fans attending games in expansion Atlanta. It has in essence taken nearly a half century for soccer to become solidly established to the point they should be recognized as one of the top-five pro sports today.

While there are reasons, such as more families involved in soccer because it is lower cost, and seen as safer for kids to play, more significantly is likely the influx of new immigrants from countries more familiar with the sport, so they arrive as potential fans.

Two other sports will no doubt look to draw on the interest of those familiar with two sports which have been much more popular outside than they have been on this continent.

The first to try to build a new sport league will be Major League Rugby, and its arrival has me very excited. I love 15s rugby, always surfing channels to see if Team Canada is playing an international tilt.

The MLR loop will kick-off with seven teams in April, and the teams, league, and the associated podcast Earful of Dirt have all been doing a good job on social media to get fans interested. Crowds for pre-season efforts weeks ahead of the league start-ups have been good.

It’s a promising early start, and for Canadian rugby fans the Ontario Arrows, and a still unnamed team out of Vancouver have already emerged with an eye to joining the league in 2019, joining a group of five or six cities already showing interest for year two.

If the Canadian teams do join, hopefully one of our national sports channels, TSN or SportsNet will pick up games in lieu of repeated dart or poker shows, (by the way how is poker a sport?).

Rugby is popular worldwide, and if fans give it a chance it should work here.

I rate the second effort a longer shot. Cricket has a huge following in select countries, but whether the sport can fly here is a big question. Global Sports Ventures has announced it wants to build a number of cricket specific stadiums across the U.S., a recent Facebook post hinting at eight, with a T20 league to follow. A cricket stadium is rather unique in that the field is up to 150-metres in diameter. Interestingly, in Australia cricket fields are often adapted to their unique brand of football, which could be intriguing if that model was followed here.

For those completely unfamiliar with the game T20 is a version of cricket where a game last about three hours.

I’ll admit I understand little about cricket, and unless a Canadian team is part of the league my interest level will be limited. Should a team on this side of the 49th parallel I would be curious enough to give it a look.

Either way, it is obvious both rugby and cricket will look to build on some of the same fans which have made soccer grow to the point it has.