Rugby Union is growing in popularity in North America and Major League Rugby is at the epicenter of this exponential rise.
So why is MLR so important for the sport in the US? Who are the teams involved? And how can you jump on the bandwagon? Here’s everything you need to know about one of the fastest growing leagues in the United States.
MLR CHAMPIONS 2022! 🏆🗽 pic.twitter.com/9Qv5XO276h
— Rugby New York (@rugbynewyork) June 25, 2022
History of the MLR
Major League Rugby is North America’s highest level of professional Rugby Union and played its inaugural season in just 2018.
In an attempt to provide a pathway to play and grow the game of rugby amongst the American public, it became a necessity for a recognized professional association to exist.
The first season began with seven professional teams and has since grown to 13, split into Eastern and Western conferences.
In taking inspiration from Major League Soccer, the league has proved to be a quality and competitive platform, mixing the development of young and hungry North American professional players with experienced, elite names in the wider world of Rugby. Highly-decorated internationals such as Ma’a Nonu, Matt Giteau, Chris Robshaw and Ben Foden have all recently played for teams in the league.
How popular is it?
2022 was a monumental year for the MLR. Not only did the league see in-stadium growth, but television views and engagement with social and digital media were all a key indicators in the massive growth of the MLR.
Here are some of the most notable benchmarks between the end of 2021 and end of 2022:
- In stadium attendance total: 215,000+ = 40% growth
- League & teams social following: 788,000+ = 21% growth
- MLR only social following: 202,000+ = 38% growth
- Fox Sports 1 Viewership average households: 329,000+ = 69% growth
- Overall MLR Viewership average households: 191,000 = 55% growth
So, what are the rules? And what is the format?
In 2022 a record 13 teams competed in the league. Newcomers Dallas Jackals entered the Western Conference along with six other teams, while the Eastern Conference hosts another six teams.
The league itself is structured as a closed system, like many other North American sports, and does not include promotion or relegation. The league is structured into a regular season and post-season playoffs.
The regular season consists of 18 weeks, with each team playing 16 matches. They will play teams in the same conference home and away and then a select few inter-conference games.
The winner of each conference at the end of the regular season automatically takes a spot in the Conference Final. While second and third places play out a Semi-final to determine the extra place in the Conference Final.
The winners of the two Conference Finals will meet in the MLR Championship final to decide the winner of the MLR shield.
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Rules of the game are like regular worldwide Rugby Union matches. With 5 points for a try, 2 points for a conversion and 3 points for a penalty kick. There is however one difference. If you score a try under or in between the posts you are automatically given 7 points (the equivalent of a converted try).
The season schedule starts in early February and runs through to early June. It sits perfectly in the calendar to entice NFL and MLS fans, leaning on the physical, technical and mental elements of both sports.
Rugby World Cup bids
In early 2022, the USA was named the official host nation of the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
It will be the first time the Rugby World Cup has been held in either North or South America as USA Rugby and World Rugby plan to elevate the sport in the United States in preparation for the events.
USA Rugby will work to drive significant investment to the game. Having a strong domestic league that can mirror the growth of the MLS, in line with America’s big four sports will only enhance the reputation and excitement of a Rugby World Cup in just under a decade.
Quick fire: What else should I know?
- 2022 Champions: Rugby New York – the first Eastern Conference team to win the MLR Championship
- Most successful team: Seattle Seawolves (2) – they won the first two championships back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.
- Television coverage: FOX Sports
- Streaming coverage: The Rugby Network
- Highlights coverage: The MLR YouTube channel
The 2022 Collegiate Draft for the 2023 season takes place today – August 18th.