Major League Rugby (MLR), a new professional rugby union competition that will launch in the United States this year, has added a franchise in New York, while New Zealand Super Rugby team Crusaders has invested in the league’s Seattle-based club.
MLR is set to commence its inaugural regular season on April 21-22 and Rugby United New York (RUNY) will initially join as an associate member in 2018, before playing a full schedule beginning in 2019.
Rugby United NY, which will launch with its official MLR name and branding later this year, is the league’s first team on the East Coast and will be New York’s first pro rugby outfit. MLR commissioner Dean Howes said: “Expanding to the East Coast is an important step for MLR and New York is a great market for professional rugby.”
Rugby United NY will join Austin Elite, Glendale Raptors, Houston SaberCats, NOLA Gold, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors in the newly-founded league. Its ownership group consists of James Kennedy of New York-based construction company Murphy Kennedy Group, who is an active supporter of grassroots rugby, and WWE wrestling legend John Layfield, who runs Beyond Rugby Bermuda, a charity working with at risk children through rugby.
“Despite living and playing rugby in the city for 20 years, I was astonished by the player numbers and the growth of the sport in the region,” chairman and founder Kennedy said. “We want to work with the entire community to grow the sport we all love and make it accessible and enjoyable for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the Canterbury Rugby Union and its Super Rugby franchise Crusaders have purchased a minority stake in the Seawolves. Sportswear company Canterbury, a major stakeholder of the Christchurch-based Crusaders, has also purchased a minority stake in the Seattle team.
Chief executive of the Canterbury Rugby Union, Nathan Godfrey, told New Zealand’s Radio Sport Breakfast that although the deal represents a “really small investment” it will allow the Crusaders to bolster their commercial operations, whilst also adding their expertise to the ongoing development of the US as a rugby market.
“We certainly think we can learn a few things from them around fan experience,” he said. “They have really successful sport franchises over there. We sent our commercial marketing team over to Seattle before Christmas and they spent a week over there just immersed in that environment. I do think there's room for improvement in terms of how we do things in New Zealand.”