|Current season, competition or edition:|
2023 Major League Rugby season
|No. of teams||12 (as of 2023 season)|
|Countries|| United States|
|Headquarters||Dallas, Texas, United States|
|New England Free Jacks|
|Most titles||Seattle Seawolves|
Major League Rugby (MLR or USMLR) is a professional rugby union competition for clubs in North America. In the 2023 season it was contested by twelve teams: eleven from the United States and one from Canada. While operating outside of the governance and oversight of the national governing body, the league is officially sanctioned by USA Rugby—a member union of Rugby Americas North (RAN)—and is consequently part of World Rugby. The league was founded in 2017 and is headquartered in Dallas, Texas.
MLR began its first season in 2018 with seven teams. The league has since expanded, reaching an all-time high of 13 teams in the 2022 season. Eleven teams are expected to compete in the 2024 season.
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.
Early seasons and rapid expansion
The first regular-season game in Major League Rugby history was held on April 21, 2018, when the Houston SaberCats hosted the New Orleans Gold. The final was contested between the Seattle Seawolves and the Colorado Raptors, with the Seawolves winning 23-19 to become the inaugural champions.
In addition to Rugby United New York, the Toronto Arrows joined the league ahead of 2019 season as the first Canadian team in MLR. Three further American clubs began play in 2020: the New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC, and Rugby ATL. With the opening of SaberCats Stadium as Houston's permanent stadium in April 2019, MLR gained its first stadium that was specifically built for league play.
Later in April, RUNY announced the signing of French international Mathieu Bastareaud on a loan deal from Toulon for the 2020 season. In October 2019, another major signing was made when it was announced that All Blacks international and multiple World Cup winner Ma'a Nonu would join the San Diego Legion for the 2020 season. The following December saw another World Cup winner sign with the league, namely South Africa prop Tendai Mtawarira with Old Glory DC.
On March 12, 2020, MLR initially suspended its 2020 season for 30 days due to the coronavirus pandemic but then cancelled the remainder of the entire season on March 18, after five rounds had been played.
At the end of the 2022 regular seasonn, MLR announced that the Giltinis and the Gilgronis—both owned by Adam Gilchrist, co-founder of F45 Training—were disqualified from the playoffs due to a violation of league rules, allegedly including salary cap issues. At the time of their disqualification, the Giltinis and Gilgronis were ranked first and second in the western conference. Gilchrist filed suit against the league and the two teams were expelled from the league in October following a failed attempt to sell both teams.
In November 2023, the Toronto Arrows announced they would cease all operations following the death of founder Bill Webb and a failure to secure new investors. A week later, the New York Ironworkers announced they would also fold.
Major League Rugby spans five months from Late February through to Early July. The 2019 regular season was a double round-robin with all clubs playing each other home and away. Each team played sixteen games, half of them at home. This was 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.
From the 2020 season, MLR changed to a conference format. Both conferences, the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, consisted of six teams (seven teams took part in the 2022 Western Conference). Each team plays a double round-robin within their conference, home and away, in addition to playing six games against teams from the other conference, for a total of 16 regular-season games. The postseason consists 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 then face off in the league championship.
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 and other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, with each team or "franchise" owned by the league and the franchise operators owning a share of the league.
The eleven teams competing in the 2024 Major League Rugby season are divided into three divisions. On February 8, 2023, it was announced that the Miami Sharks would be joining the league in 2024. On August 17, 2023, MLR announced that Rugby ATL would be relocating to Los Angeles for the 2024 season. In November 2023, MLR announced the Toronto Arrows would not compete in the 2024 season. Less than a month following Toronto's announcement, the New York Ironworkers withdrew from the competition.
- The Gold Mine is in Metairie, Louisiana, a census-designated place in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
- Snapdragon Stadium is located on the campus of San Diego State University at SDSU Mission Valley.
- Starfire Stadium is in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Washington.
- Zions Bank Stadium is in Herriman, Utah, located within the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.
The expansion franchise fee is US$4 million as of 2019.
|Colorado Raptors||Glendale, Colorado||Infinity Park||2018||2020|
|LA Giltinis||Los Angeles, California||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum||2021||2022|
|Austin Gilgronis||Austin, Texas||Bold Stadium||2018||2022|
|Toronto Arrows||Toronto, Ontario||York Lions Stadium||2018||2023|
|Rugby New York||New York, New York||Mount Vernon Memorial Field||2018||2023|
On April 9, 2020, the Colorado Raptors announced that they would withdraw from Major League Rugby after three seasons in the league, effective May 2, 2020, the first team to do so. Their announcement explained their withdrawal by saying that "our greater responsibility lies in the development of American players who can win the World Cup for the United States." Asked to explain how withdrawing from the league would help to develop American rugby players, the Raptors referred the question to Glendale City Manager Linda Cassaday, who said on April 10, 2020, that MLR had been founded with a core mission of developing American rugby players and originally had limited teams to three foreign players, although this expanded to five players before the first season began in 2018. MLR had expanded from seven teams in 2018 to 12 in 2020 without having enough American players to fill out rosters and had raised the ceiling on foreign players to 10 per team. The Raptors believed that both this overall number of foreign players and the higher proportion of foreign to American players no longer best served the goal of developing American players who could compete successfully in the Rugby World Cup, and therefore chose to withdraw from the league to better focus their efforts on the development of American players who could compete on an international stage.
On October 25, 2022, Major League Rugby announced that 12 teams would compete in the 2023 season, but that neither the Austin Gilgronis, nor the LA Giltinis will participate. With the uncertainties surrounding Austin and Los Angeles' team ownership, it was determined to suspend operations of the two teams to ensure a successful 2023 season, and protect the long-term strength and continued growth of the league.
On November 27, 2023, Major League Rugby announced that the Toronto Arrows would cease all operations, and not compete in the 2024 season. The Arrows had sought new funding following the death of their CEO, Bill Webb, but were unable to guarantee the new backers in time.
|2018||7||Seattle Seawolves||23–19||Glendale Raptors|
|2019||9||Seattle Seawolves||26–23||San Diego Legion|
|2020||12||Canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic|
|2021||12||LA Giltinis||31–17||Rugby ATL|
|2022||13||Rugby New York||30–15||Seattle Seawolves|
|2023||12||New England Free Jacks||25–24||San Diego Legion|
|Club||MLR Shields||Year(s) Won||Conf champs||Year(s) Won||Playoff apps||Year(s)||Total seasons|
|Seattle Seawolves||2||2018, 2019||1||2022||4||2018, 2019, 2022, 2023||6|
|Rugby New York||1||2022||1||2022||4||2019, 2021, 2022, 2023||5|
|New England Free Jacks||1||2023||1||2023||2||2022, 2023||4|
|San Diego Legion||0||-||1||2023||4||2018, 2019, 2022, 2023||6|
|Rugby ATL||0||-||1||2021||2||2021, 2022||4|
|Houston SaberCats||0||-||0||-||2||2022, 2023||6|
|Utah Warriors||0||-||0||-||2||2018, 2021||6|
|Old Glory DC||0||-||0||-||1||2023||4|
|† Franchise no longer competes in MLR|
MLR rivalry cups
In Major League Rugby, several teams annually compete for secondary rivalry cups. Most cups are deliberately conceived as local derbies between teams in the same region.
Each win is counted as an official title. Only official MLR games are considered as official rivalry games unless an exhibition game is specifically marked as a Rivalry game. Several teams now participating in cups played matches before the creation of the cups.
|Rivalry name||Most wins||Titles||Other club(s)||Titles||Recent winner|
|I-45 Feud||Houston Sabercats||3||Dallas Jackals||0||Houston Sabercats|
|Dog Bowl||Chicago Hounds||2||Dallas Jackals||0||Chicago Hounds|
|Coffee Cup||New England Free Jacks||2||Seattle Seawolves||1||New England Free Jacks|
These Cups are currently listed as inactive, due to teams withdrawing from, or relocating within, Major League Rugby. Individual cups may return with new teams in the future.
|Rivalry name||Most wins||Titles||Other club(s)||Titles||Last winner|
|Texas Cup||Austin Gilgronis||3||Houston SaberCats||0||Austin Gilgronis|
|Lone Star Champs||Austin Gilgronis||1||Houston SaberCats
|Cali Cup||LA Giltinis||2||San Diego Legion||1||San Diego Legion|
|Champagne Cup||Rugby New York||1||LA Giltinis||1||LA Giltinis|
|Cuisine Solutions Cup||Old Glory DC||2||Austin Gilgronis||1||Austin Gilgronis|
|Gillys Cup||LA Giltinis||3||Austin Gilgronis||1||LA Giltinis|
|Fire and Ice Cup||Rugby ATL||3||Toronto Arrows||0||Rugby ATL|
|Chowdah Cup||New England Free Jacks||5||Rugby New York||1||New England Free Jacks|
Major League Rugby players include those drawn from North American clubs, as well as foreign signings. Although the original concept was to limit club to three foreign players, the limit grew to five before the start of the first season, before then being increased to ten. This increased allotment of foreign players led to some criticism that MLR was not providing enough opportunities for American players to develop.
- MLR season
|Player of the Year||Forward of the Year||Back of the Year||Coach of the Year||Rookie of the Year||S. Marcus Calloway Community Impact Award|
- MLR championship
|MVP of the Championship Match|
(MVP of Championship Series)
Major League Rugby programming runs in prime weekend time slots on Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings. As of 2023, FOX Sports broadcasts select matches nationally on FS1 & FS2, including the Championship Final; all other matches are available to stream live and for free on The Rugby Network.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MLR adjusted its 2020 season schedule and turned its attention to ensuring the league would rebound with a strong showing in 2021. Matches were televised on CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports 2, among other national and local market platforms. The MLR Championship was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, August 1, 2021.
For the 5th (2022) and 6th (2023) seasons of MLR competition, FOX Sports nationally broadcast select matches on FS1 and FS2. FOX broadcast the 2022 Final between New York and Seattle, with an average audience figure of 281,000. During the 2023 season, FOX Sports 1 broadcast three regular season matches, with average audience figures ranging between 53,000 and 147,000. Fox Sports 2 broadcast one regular season match with an average audience of 36,000.
Several teams have separate local rights agreements.
- San Diego Legion has a separate local rights agreement for their market with all the Legion's home-and-away MLR games that are not nationally televised being televised locally on Channel 4 YurView California.
- The Chicago Hounds began a television partnership with Marquee Sports Network beginning with the 2023 season.
- Rugby United New York (RUNY) announced a regional television partnership with SNY to televise nine games of RUNY's inaugural season (2019), including live coverage of with the premiere game. NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports Philadelphia+ joined SNY in televising match coverage of eight remaining games.
- Toronto Arrows Rugby announced a television partnership with GameTV for the 2019 season.
- Austin Elite Rugby partnered with Facebook Watch for their Texas-based viewers during the 2019 season.
MLR Weekly presented by Rugby Wrap Up is a weekly Major League Rugby magazine show featuring weekly highlights, previews and interviews with players, coaches and rugby personalities. The show is broadcast on American TV including Cox Communication’s YurView Channel 4 in San Diego and Santa Barbara, and Channel 118 in Orange County and Palos Verdes, YurView California. YurView Arizona, YurView Vegas as well as Marquee Sports Network in Chicago.
Previous television partners include AT&T, CBS, and ESPN. ESPN had the national and international rights to an 18-game package covering regular season matches to audiences across its various platforms for the 2018 season. The CBS Sports Network televised select matches nationally during the 2019 season. This included a Game of the Week during each of the 10 rounds of the MLR regular season along with all three post-season matches. 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 were available on ESPN properties and regional sports networks. AT&T Sports Networks had 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 were carried on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. Seattle's matches were carried on Root Sports Northwest and all Colorado and Utah games were hosted on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain.
Finals TV ratings
|Year||TV Viewership||Ratings||Channel||Stadium Attendance||Ref.|
|2020||Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic|
On March 16, 2021, MLR launched The Rugby Network. It is a free streaming platform in conjunction with RugbyPass which streams MLR matches and highlights. This digital network provides rugby fans with a single destination to stream select MLR matches, international rugby matches, game highlights, and other content.
On March 17, 2021, MLR launched its official mobile app. This allows MLR fans to view MLR news, schedules, match scores, team profiles, statistics, and other video content. The app is part of a multi-platform deal with digital sport innovators PT SportSuite for MLR's digital media capabilities. The MLR app is available to download on iPhone App Store and Android Google Play.
Top attendances for Major League Rugby matches all time, from 2018 onward:
|1||11,423||San Diego Legion vs Utah Warriors
|February 18, 2023||2023||Snapdragon Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|2||10,103||San Diego Legion vs New England Free Jacks
|July 8, 2023||2023||SeatGeek Stadium||Chicago, IL|
|3||9,186||Utah Warriors vs Glendale Raptors
|March 30, 2018||2018||Rio Tinto Stadium||Sandy, UT|
|4||8,926||San Diego Legion vs New York Ironworkers
|May 28, 2023||2023||Snapdragon Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|5||7,389||Los Angeles Giltinis vs Rugby ATL
|August 1, 2021||2021||Los Angeles Coliseum||Los Angeles, CA|
|6||6,000||San Diego Legion vs Seattle Seawolves
|June 16, 2019||2019||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|7||4,880||Los Angeles Giltinis vs Utah Warriors
|May 15, 2021||2021||Sofi Stadium||Los Angeles, CA|
|8||4,758||New England Free Jacks vs Houston SaberCats
|June 18, 2023||2023||Veterans Memorial Stadium||Quincy, MA|
|9||4,560||Utah Warriors vs Rugby Atlanta
|May 27, 2023||2023||Zions Bank Stadium||Herriman, UT|
|10||4,500||San Diego Legion vs Rugby United New York
|June 9, 2019||2019||Torero Stadium||San Diego, CA|
|4,500||Utah Warriors vs Rugby Atlanta
|July 11, 2021||2021||Zions Bank Stadium||Herriman, UT|
|4,500||Seattle Seawolves vs New York Ironworkers
|February 18, 2023||2023||Starfire Stadium||Tukwila, WA|
|4,500||Seattle Seawolves vs Chicago Hounds
|May 20, 2023||2023||Starfire Stadium||Tukwila, WA|
|4,500||Utah Warriors vs Houston Sabercats
|May 20, 2023||2023||Zions Bank Stadium||Herriman, UT|
Attendance for the inaugural season was approximately 1,800 per match. That average increased by about 300 per game in 2019 with an average of 2,133 per game and a total of 159,000 attendees. George Killebrew reported that in 2022 an additional 70,000 tickets were sold compared to the 2021 season, with crowd averages remaining around 2,000 per game.
- Nic Benson (2016–2023)
The Gem Garden in San Marcos, California, makes all MLR Championship rings, as of 2018.
On October 28, 2019, Major League Rugby announced that, starting for the 2020 season, Paladin Sports will be the new supplier of all uniforms/kit for the league. On November 1, 2023, MLR announced a 3-year partnership with Italian sportswear brand, Kappa, as the official kit partner of the league, beginning with the 2024 season.
On January 2, 2020, MLR partnered with Rhino Rugby for the 2020 season. Rhino Rugby is the official ball and technical training equipment supplier for the 2020 MLR season. The Rhino Rugby "Vortex Elite" ball is the official MLR match ball for all 12 teams. The Vortex Elite is currently the official ball of Rugby Europe, and Asia Rugby, and has been used in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) the past several years
On February 23, 2023, MLR signed a partnership with OVAL3, the brand specializing in Web3 and fantasy rugby. OVAL3 will be the "Exclusive NFT Fantasy Game" of Major League Rugby. OVAL3 plans to provide "world-class immersive experiences" and Web 3.0 engagement to rugby's rapidly-growing North American fanbase.
|New Orleans Gold||Louisiana Office of Tourism|
|Rugby New York||None|
|San Diego Legion||Kings and Convicts Brewing|
|Seattle Seawolves||WaFd Bank|
|Toronto Arrows||Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation|
|Utah Warriors||InterMountain Healthcare|
|New England Free Jacks||Alloy Therapeutics|
|Old Glory DC||Cuisine Solutions|
|Rugby ATL||Barbour Orthopedics and Spine|
- United States Rugby Players Association
- Women's Premier League Rugby — Women's top competition in the U.S.
- PRO Rugby — a professional rugby competition in the U.S. that played only one season in 2016 before folding
- Super Rugby Americas — professional rugby competition played predominantly in South America, featuring teams from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the United States.
- Rugby union in the United States
- History of rugby union in the United States
- College rugby
- North American Rugby League
- Competed as Glendale Raptors in 2018 and 2019.
- Competed as Austin Elite in 2018 and 2019.
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- "Mexico eyeing a Major League Rugby future". Americas Rugby News. December 18, 2020.
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- "Major League Rugby Issues 2023 Competition Update". Major League Rugby.
- "Updated: Colorado Raptors withdraw from Major League Rugby". KUSA.com. April 9, 2020.
- "Major League Rugby Announce Telecast Agreement with AT&T Sports Networks". MLR. February 5, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
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- "Major League Rugby Releases 2021 Season Launch, Championship Date". Major League Rugby.
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- "Media partners". San Diego Legion. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
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