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Major League Rugby could bring in Hawaii expansion team in 2021

Major League Rugby is poised to expand its geographical reach in a significant way after announcing it is in talks to bring in a Hawaii-based expansion team in 2021.

MLR received an expansion bid from the Kanaloa Hawai’i group and the initial application for membership has been accepted.

The two parties have now entered into an exclusive negotiating period. Kanaloa Hawai’i now has 90 days to finalize terms and meet the league’s expansion benchmarks before being ratified by a board vote to be formally admitted.

If all terms are met, Kanaloa Hawai’i would become the 14th member for the 2021 MLR season.

The league said on its official website: “MLR received and reviewed thorough plans presented for a team in the Hawai’i market. The group of professionals developing the opportunity are extremely knowledgeable and experienced. They have developed and presented an in-depth approach that ingrains the rich rugby history in Hawai’i and MLR can confirm that this has the potential to become a strong and unique market within the League.”

Key details such as the identity of the owners and where the team will play have yet to be revealed.

Although a potentially unique move, the costs of traveling teams to and from Hawaii, as well as the time and distance factors, would be significant and potentially burdensome for a start-up league.

The last major Hawaii-based professional sports team in a mainland United States-based league is believed to be Team Hawaii of the original North American Soccer League, which lasted one season in 1977.

Minor League Baseball’s Hawaii Islanders played in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League between 1961-87. And on an event level, the National Football League staged its annual Pro Bowl in Honolulu for more than three decades before shifting the game four years ago to Orlando, Florida.

MLR recently announced expansion teams in Dallas and Los Angeles for the 2021 season.

In March, MLR announced it had canceled the remainder of the 2020 season due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The start-up domestic rugby union competition was just five weeks into its third campaign, with George Killebrew as its new commissioner.