Major League Rugby (MLR or USMLR) is a professional rugby union competition and the top-level championship for clubs in North America. In the 2019 season it was contested by nine teams: eight from the United States and one from Canada. Officially sanctioned by USA Rugby, which is a member union of Rugby Americas North (RAN), and consequently part of World Rugby, the league was founded in 2017, and is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
With its initial beginnings as part of established amateur rugby clubs in major North American urban areas, MLR began its first season in 2018 as an initiative of the American rugby community in partnership with private investors. Three further American clubs, Atlanta, Boston and Washington D.C., are set to begin play in 2020.
|Major League Rugby|
|Most recent season or competition:|
2019 Major League Rugby season
|Commissioner||Dean Howes |
|No. of teams||12|
|Countries||United States (11 teams)|
Canada (1 team)
|Headquarters||Salt Lake City, Utah, United States|
|Seattle Seawolves |
|Most titles||Seattle Seawolves (2 titles)|
In September 2016, with at least five amateur rugby union clubs across the United States discussing a possible professional league, Dean Howes, who had previously been an executive with Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League, stepped in as senior strategic advisor for Rugby Utah in an attempt to provide a pathway for expanding professional rugby stateside.
By February 2017, a total of nine amateur rugby union organizations including the Austin Huns, Dallas Griffins, Glendale Raptors, Houston Strikers, Kansas City Blues, Minneapolis, New Orleans RFC, Rugby Utah and the Seattle Saracens, announced their intentions to form a professional league to begin play the following year.
On August 15, 2017, the Austin Huns announced that it would opt-out of MLR in favor of allowing a newly-branded spinoff, the Austin Elite compete in the league. The Houston Strikers rebranded themselves as the Houston SaberCats. Whereas the elite players of New Orleans, Utah, and Seattle became the New Orleans Gold, Utah Warriors, and Seattle Seawolves respectively, interests in Minneapolis were replaced by the San Diego Legion. With Kansas City and Dallas still in planning stages, the league continued as seven members for its inaugural season.
On November 6, 2017, Major League Rugby and CBS Sports Network announced a multi-year television partnership which marked MLR's first major television deal for broadcast rights. It was the first time in American history that a new sporting league had a national television deal prior to launch.
In late April 2019, RUNY announced the signing of French international Mathieu Bastareaud which is seen as a major coup for the league, since Bastereaud is a current French international and world-class player, making him by far the most prominent player in the league at that time.
Major League Rugby spans six months from late January through to mid-June. The regular season is a double round-robin with all clubs playing each other home and away. Each team plays sixteen games, half of them at home. This is followed by a postseason for the top four teams consisting of two semi-final matches and the Championship Game to determine the season's MLR champion team.
For the 2020 season, MLR will change to a conference format. Both conferences, the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, will consist of six teams: Seattle, San Diego, Utah, Glendale, Austin and Houston in the west and existing teams New Orleans, New York, and Toronto to be joined by 2020 newcomers Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New England in the east. Each team will play a double round-robin within their conference in addition to playing six games against teams from the other conference, for a total of 16 regular-season games. The postseason will consist of the top three teams from each conference: a wildcard game between the second and third ranked teams, followed by a playoff game between the wildcard winner and the first ranked team in the conference. The resulting playoff winners from each conference will then face off in the league championship. The season is scheduled to start on February 15, 2020.
The league is structured as a closed system and, similar to other American sports leagues, does not have promotion and relegation. It operates as a single entity similar to Major League Soccer, with each team or "franchise" owned by the league and the franchise operators owning a share of the league.
There are twelve teams confirmed for the 2020 Major League Rugby season with a regular season of 96 matches and be divided into two conferences:
|Western Conference||Austin Elite||Austin, Texas||Dell Diamond [a]||11,631||2018||Tbc||CBS Austin|
|Glendale Raptors||Denver, Colorado||Infinity Park [b]||5,000||2018||Peter Borlase||KUSA9|
|Houston SaberCats||Houston, Texas||Aveva Stadium||4,000||2018||Paul Healy||KUBE-TV|
|San Diego Legion||San Diego, California||Torero Stadium||6,000||2018||Rob Hoadley||FOX 5 San Diego|
|Seattle Seawolves||Seattle, Washington||Starfire Stadium [c]||4,500||2018||Tbc||Univision Seattle|
|Utah Warriors||Salt Lake City, Utah||Zions Bank Stadium [d]||5,000||2018||Tbc||Univision Utah|
My Utah TV
|Eastern Conference||New England Free Jacks||Boston, Massachusetts||Union Point Sports Complex [e]||2,000||2020||Josh Smith||CBS 4 Boston|
|New Orleans Gold||New Orleans, Louisiana||Eagle Athletic Facility [f]||3,000||2018||Nate Osborne||Cox Sports TV|
|Old Glory DC||Washington, D.C.||Cardinal Stadium [g]||3,500||2020||Andrew Douglas||Univision DC|
|Rugby United New York||New York, New York||MCU Park||7,000||2019||Mike Tolkin||SportsNet New York|
|Rugby ATL||Atlanta, Georgia||—||—||2020||Scott Lawerence||WSB-TV|
|Toronto Arrows||Toronto, Ontario||Alumni Field
|2019||Chris Silverthorn||CTV Toronto|
|Dallas MLR Team||Dallas, Texas||—||—||2021||—|
|Los Angeles MLR Team||Los Angeles, California||—||—||2021||—|
|Ohio MLR Team||Columbus, Ohio||Fortress Obetz||6,500||—||—|
|Las Vegas MLR Team||Las Vegas, Nevada||—||—||—||—|
|Vancouver MLR Team||Vancouver, British Columbia||—||—||—||—|
|Halifax MLR Team||Halifax, Nova Scotia||Wanderers Grounds||6,200||—||—|
|Champion||Score||Runner-up||Higher seeded||Lower seeded|
|2018||7||Seattle Seawolves||23–19||Glendale Raptors||San Diego Legion||Utah Warriors|
|2019||9||Seattle Seawolves||26–23||San Diego Legion||Toronto Arrows||Rugby United New York|
Major League Rugby players are generally drawn from North American clubs, although teams are allowed to sign up to ten overseas players.
|Player of the Year||Forward of the Year||Back of the Year||Coach of the Year|
|MVP of the Championship Match||MVP of the Championship Series|
Major League Rugby programming runs in prime weekend time slots on Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings.
The CBS Sports Network televises 13 matches nationally over the course of the season. This includes a Game of the Week during each of the 10 rounds of the MLR regular season along with all three post-season matches. Live streaming is also available through the CBS Sports Network streaming platforms. Dan Power(Play By Play) , Brian Hightower (Color Analyst) and Stacy Paetz (Sideline) were the CBS Sports commentators for the 2019 season. The remaining games are available on ESPN properties and regional sports networks.
AT&T Sports Networks have a 17-game package covering six of the seven MLR teams for games not broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Home-and-away matches for Austin, Houston and New Orleans are carried on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. Seattle's matches are carried on Root Sports Northwest and all Glendale and Utah games are hosted on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain.
San Diego has a separate local rights agreement for their market with all the Legion's home-and-away MLR games that are not on the CBS Sports Network being televised locally on Channel 4 YurView California.
Rugby United New York announced regional television partnership with SNY, which will televise nine games of RUNY's inaugural season (2019), with the premiere game airing LIVE Sunday, January 27 at 5:00 PM EST. Also, NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports Philadelphia+ will join SNY in televising match coverage of eight remaining games, beginning Saturday February 16 at 3 PM EST when RUNY travels to face the NOLA Gold. The partnership with the NBC Sports Regional Networks expands RUNY's TV market into two key East Coast markets.
Top five attendances for Major League Rugby games (all time, from 2018 onward):
|1||6,000||San Diego Legion vs Seattle Seawolves (Final)||2019-06-16||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|2||4,500||San Diego Legion vs Rugby United New York (Semi-Final)||2019-06-09||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|3||4,175||San Diego Legion vs New Orleans Gold||2019-06-02||2||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|4||4,000||Glendale Raptors vs Seattle Seawolves||2019-05-18||2||Infinity Park||Glendale, CO|
|5||3,800||Seattle Seawolves vs Austin Elite||2019-06-02||2||Starfire Stadium||Seattle, WA|
|3,800||Seattle Seawolves vs Utah Warriors||2019-05-26||2||Starfire Stadium||Seattle, WA|
The highest attended non-competition game by an MLR team was a pre-season clash between Utah Warriors and Glendale Raptors, 31 March 2018, which drew 9,186 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The league signed a multi-year partnership deal with XBlades in 2017 to supply all jersey/kit apparel for each MLR team and all match officials. The MLR also announced Ram Rugby as the official ball supplier. In May 2018, via Instagram, MLR announced Impact Custom Mouth Guards as the official mouth guard of the league.
|New Orleans Gold||Louisiana Tourism||Undisclosed|
|Rugby United New York||None|
|San Diego Legion||None|
|New England Free Jacks||None||Boathouse|
|Old Glory DC||Cuisine Solutions||Adidas|
The Austin Elite is a professional rugby union team based in Austin, Texas, United States. The team was founded in 2017 after a split from the amateur Austin Huns Rugby Football Club who were National Division 1 Club Champions in 2017 and competes in Major League Rugby.Dell Diamond
Dell Diamond is the home stadium of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Houston Astros major league baseball team. On April 16, 2000, the then-Double-A affiliate Express played their first home game at the stadium.Dell Diamond is built on 85 acres (344,000 m²) of former farmland on the east side of Round Rock, Texas, a rapidly growing suburban city northeast of Austin. Nolan Ryan and his son Reid Ryan, part owners of the Express, originally wanted a stadium inside the city of Austin, but found a more attractive site in the City of Round Rock, with support from the city leadership. The city of Round Rock contributed $7.35 million to the $25 million cost of the facility. The city owns the ballpark and gave the Express a 38-year lease. Local-based computer technology company Dell contracted for naming rights in a deal that will cost the company $2.5 million over 15 years.Glendale Raptors
Glendale Raptors R.F.C. is a professional rugby union team based in Glendale, Colorado, an enclave of Denver. The team competes in Major League Rugby.Griffins Rugby
Dallas Griffins Rugby, formerly Frisco Griffins, is a rugby union team based in Allen, Texas, United States, founded in 2008 by Phil Camm and Bill Bingham. Dallas competed in USA Rugby's first tier amateur competition, Red River Conference D1, and was a member of Major League Rugby at its foundation.Houston SaberCats
The Houston SaberCats are an American professional rugby union team based in Houston, Texas. The team was founded in 2017 and competes in Major League Rugby, the top-level rugby competition in the United States that played its first season in 2018.Infinity Park
Infinity Park is a sports stadium in the Denver enclave of Glendale, Colorado, and was formerly the unofficial home stadium of the United States national rugby union team. The stadium has a seating capacity of 5,000 people. The stadium opened in 2007, at a cost of $22.5 million. It is the first rugby-specific, municipally-owned stadium in the United States.Infinity Park is the venue for several domestic rugby teams. The rugby stadium is home to the Glendale Raptors, a professional rugby union team in Major League Rugby, the Glendale Merlins, a Division I men's rugby team that have won the national championship, and of the Denver Barbarians. The stadium also hosts the Women's Premier League's Glendale Lady Raptors. The Denver Stampede of the now defunct PRO Rugby played at the stadium between April and May 2016.
Infinity Park also hosts various tournaments. The stadium regularly hosts USA Rugby national men's club semifinals and finals championships. Infinity Park is the home of the Serevi Rugbytown Sevens Tournament which takes place in August each year and attracts teams from around the world to compete for a winner-take-all $10,000 cash prize. Most notably, it became the new home of the USA Women's Sevens, the country's stop in the annual World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, starting with the 2018–19 season.LA Coast Rugby
Los Angeles Coast Rugby was a bid for a professional rugby union team to be based in Los Angeles, California as a part of Major League Rugby (MLR) in 2019. No home stadium or coaching staff was announced.MCU Park
MCU Park (formerly KeySpan Park) is a minor league baseball stadium on the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City. The home team is the New York Mets-affiliated Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York–Penn League. The NYU Violets Baseball team began playing at MCU Park in 2015, and the New York Cosmos Soccer Club of the NASL moved in for the 2017 NASL season. Rugby United New York of Major League Rugby began play in 2019 with MCU Park as its home field.
The official seating capacity at MCU Park is 7,000, though the Cyclones sell up to 2,500 more standing-room tickets. Prior to 2016, the capacity was 7,500 plus 2,500 standing room. Features include a concourse with free-standing concession buildings and overhanging fluorescent lamps in different colors, evoking an amusement park atmosphere. In addition, the park overlooks the Atlantic Ocean as well as the famous Parachute Jump in right field, and the landmarked Wonder Wheel and Coney Island Cyclone in left field.
MCU Park is accessible via the New York City Subway at the Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue station, served by the D, F, N, and Q trains.New England Free Jacks
The New England Free Jacks are a professional rugby union team in Major League Rugby (MLR) from Boston, Massachusetts. They were announced in September 2018 and began to compete professionally in October 2018. They will begin competing in MLR in the 2020 season.New Orleans Gold
The New Orleans Gold (also known as NOLA Gold) is a professional rugby union team based at Marrero, Louisiana, in the Westbank area of the New Orleans metropolitan area. The team was founded in 2017 and competes in Major League Rugby.Old Glory DC
Old Glory DC RFC is a professional rugby union team that is a member of Major League Rugby (MLR). It is based at Cardinal Stadium in Washington, D.C. The organization is led by former USA Eagles Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey. The team will be assisted in the coaching ranks by Andrew Douglas, a renowned New Zealand coach. Old Glory will play an abbreviated schedule of exhibition games in May 2019 and will begin regular-season MLR play in 2020.Rugby ATL
Rugby ATL is an announced professional rugby union team in Major League Rugby (MLR) from Atlanta, Georgia, to begin play in 2020.Rugby United New York
Rugby United New York, known as RUNY, is a professional rugby union team based in New York City that is a member of Major League Rugby (MLR). The team played an exhibition season in spring 2018 and joined MLR for its second full season in 2019. The team was founded by James Kennedy.San Diego Legion
The San Diego Legion is an American professional rugby union team based in San Diego, California. The team was founded in 2017 and competes in Major League Rugby.Seattle Seawolves
The Seattle Seawolves are an American professional rugby union team based in Seattle, Washington. The team was founded in 2017 and competes in Major League Rugby, the top-level rugby competition in the United States that played its first season in 2018.Starfire Sports
Starfire Sports is a sporting facility in Tukwila, Washington, on the banks of the Green River, near Seattle. It is operated by the non-profit corporation Starfire Sports and is home to several soccer and rugby teams. At the time of its opening, CEO Chris Slatt believed it to be "the largest synthetic-turf soccer complex in the U.S." Seattle Sounders FC has offices and training facilities at the complex, and stages Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matches at the main stadium. Their affiliate team, Seattle Sounders FC 2, played at Starfire from 2015 to 2017. The Seattle affiliate of Major League Rugby, the Seattle Seawolves, began play at Starfire Sports in Spring 2018.Torero Stadium
Torero Stadium is a 6,000-seat stadium in San Diego, California. It was built in 1961. It is home to the University of San Diego football team, which plays in the NCAA Pioneer Football League, the University of San Diego soccer team, which plays in the NCAA West Coast Conference, the San Diego Legion team, which plays in the Major League Rugby league, and formerly the San Diego Breakers, playing in the PRO Rugby competition.Toronto Arrows
Toronto Arrows R.F.C. is a rugby union club based out of Toronto, Canada, that plays in Major League Rugby. The Arrows team is an independent off-shoot of the Ontario Blues Rugby Football Club and is funded by a group of private investors and supporters. The team splits its home games between Alumni Field of York University and Lamport Stadium for its inaugural 2019 MLR season.Utah Warriors
The Utah Warriors are a professional rugby union team that competes in Major League Rugby, the top-level rugby competition in the United States that played its first season in 2018. The team is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was founded in 2017 by Rugby Utah Ventures.
Major League Rugby
Top-level rugby union club competitions
|Tier 1 nations|