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Major League Rugby ends second season on mixed note

The second season of Major League Rugby finished on Sunday, with the Seattle Seawolves defeating the San Diego Legion 26-23 in front of 5,000-plus fans, in a game that was broadcast on the main CBS network.

The sophomore campaign had its ups and downs, however, as MLR continues to try to grow rugby union in the United States.

“It was our sophomore year and we grew a little bit, and that’s an atypical thing in the world of sports. Your second year is usually kind of a tough year, and I think we grew and I think we’re poised to build,” MLR commissioner Dean Howes said before the game.

As reported by The Guardian, Rugby United New York is looking for a new venue in 2020 after struggling to attract crowds at MCU Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Rugby Today, meanwhile, has reported that both RUNY and Austin Elite “appear to be in financial trouble”.

This is something that was flatly denied by RUNY owner James Kennedy. “We are very well financed,” he told The Guardian, “and have been entertaining investment offers for the last year and a half.” Kennedy added that the team’s first season had been “a roller coaster and a learning curve”.

Austin Elite, meanwhile, lost all 16 of its regular-season games and underwent a massive upheaval of its front office to try to rectify matters. There is some suggestion the club could relocate to Ohio.

MLR will be divided into Western and Eastern conferences next year following the addition of three new teams: the New England Free Jacks, the Washington DC-based Old Glory DC and the Atlanta-based Rugby ATL. To help ease travel costs, regional conferences have been created for the 12-team league.

“This is a single entity,” Howes added. “So one team’s problem is all of our problems. So we definitely have a ways to go but this is not atypical, right? I mean this is something every league goes through and I think it’s better if they go through it with partners around them than if they were in a franchise model and things were a little different.

“The league is involved with everybody, and we still have to improve some of our groups, and help them, and get them in a situation where they can succeed. That’s why we spend a certain amount of time visiting with the city officials and because some of this is public-private help. It’s finding the right facility, it’s getting the right coaches. This is a complex heavy lift, and we want to work together to solve it.”