Skip to content

Sports This Week - New rugby league a dream come true

It’s not very often that dreams come true in terms of what we might most want to see in the world of sports. But I have to say one of my sport dreams appears about to happen. Major League Rugby is about to launch in April.

It’s not very often that dreams come true in terms of what we might most want to see in the world of sports.

But I have to say one of my sport dreams appears about to happen.

Major League Rugby is about to launch in April. The new league is hitting pitches in the United States in seven cities, and while mainstream sports television continues to have tunnel-vision focused on boring preseason baseball, and replaying day-old NHL games, within the rugby community there is a significant buzz.

There have been other attempts at establishing a professional 15s rugby league in North America, most-recently the short-lived PRO Rugby, which folded after one season in 2016.

There were issues with PRO rugby, but rather than dwell on those, I’d rather look at why MLR has the feel it will succeed.

To begin with, most of the teams in the MLR for 2018 have grown out of established club rugby organizations. That is important because the teams have a foundation of sorts to build on, and if a club team has been successful there is at least a grassroots culture in the communities already.

The clubs, for the most part, have all been active on social media, and not just a few pictures, but information on player signings, video from try-outs and in general building a following by creating a dialogue online. For a new league in which the sport is obviously something of a niche interest in North America, creating preseason interest is huge.

The league is finding interest on a higher level too.

The League and CBS Sports Network have announced an exclusive, multi-year television partnership. CBS Sports Network will televise the inaugural season of the new start-up league beginning in April, 2018, marking the first national television partnership in the history of American professional rugby.

CBS Sports Network will televise a 13-game package with 10 weeks of regular season coverage – highlighted by a Major League Rugby Game of the Week – and two weeks of postseason coverage in 2018, including the semifinals and the first MLR Championship Game.

While that doesn’t mean easy television viewing in Canada – the league has suggested an online option will be forthcoming – having a major network on-board in year-one is rather significant.

So for a fan who searches out Team Canada games on cable whenever possible, and who watched more of the last world cup of rugby than the better half thought possible, the MLR is an exciting prospect.

But while following the spattering of Canadian players in the new league; Hubert Buydens in New Orleans, and Ray Barkwill with Seattle among them, the real hope with the MLR for a Canadian fan is expansion.

There has already been huge buzz regarding expansion for as soon as 2019. New York has already been awarded an expansion team for 2019. Both Dallas and Kansas City had been in the initial mix to have a team in year-one, and decided to wait a year at least. Chicago is an expected frontrunner for a team sooner than later, and Boston gets mention too.

It’s hard not to imagine the league would covet a second California team to go with founding franchise San Diego, and with Sacramento and San Francisco having had PRO teams they would seem likely sites.  Columbus is another former PRO city who seems a natural, or at least an Ohio city.

Then there are the Ontario Arrows and a contingent from Vancouver.

The Arrows are already playing, or at least a version of the team. They played a preseason game with the Houston Sabrecats of the MLR playing to a 28-28 tie.

The Province online had written “Months after West Vancouver businessman Karl Harrison first suggested he was looking to bring professional rugby to B.C., the news is now official. For now, call it “Vancouver RFC.”

“The new team will launch a year from now and join Major League Rugby, the U.S. circuit that’s set to launch this spring in seven American cities.”

The same article includes; “The Arrows are basically a professional offshoot of the Ontario Blues program, which has been run with great success under the auspices of the Ontario Rugby Union. But with the demands of professionalism being what they are — travel budgets, player and staff salary budgets, marketing, you name it — building a team independent of the body which oversees the amateur game in the province was inevitable.

“They have the backing of Rugby Canada and are clearly showing themselves as a full-steam-ahead outfit.”

Expansion was one of the topics touched upon League commissioner Dean Howes while speaking to media at a San Diego Legion launch event last week.

“Joining Rugby United New York will be two further US-based teams. Neither are explicitly revealed in the video but speculation is that Dallas and Chicago will be the locations,” suggested an article at

“Both teams were original partners in the league but opted to withdraw for the 2018 season. Dallas have retained Mike Ford as Director of Rugby while Chicago are constructing a new multi-field facility in East Garfield Park…”

“Set to join in 2019 pending ongoing negotiations are two Canadian teams – Vancouver and Toronto (Ontario).

“Meanwhile two bids have been entertained by MLR officials for the Vancouver franchise. Karl Harrison’s group – who announced their intentions publicly in early January – traveled to Salt Lake City last week. The progress of a second group with ties to the BC Rugby Union appears to have stalled.

“Should the two Canadians teams not join next season the league will proceed with 10 teams. Presumably the door will still be open for the Canadian teams in 2020 but otherwise MLR will stay the course for two seasons at which time they will add two more teams with a target of 16 teams beyond that. Finding interested parties will not be difficult – quality assurance is the priority.”

And there is more to this amazing birth of professional rugby in North America, but that is for next week.