With the successful launch of the inaugural season of Major League Rugby (MLR) this past April, fans in the national capital region can begin dreaming of a professional rugby team of their own.
Two local business leaders with rugby in their blood — Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey — have secured exclusive rights for a DC-based MLR team. With the appropriate level of community and corporate support, the team plans to enter league competition no later than 2020 and possibly begin playing games within the next 12 months.
MLR, the new, U.S.-based professional rugby union competition, currently has seven teams competing in an abbreviated 8-game opening season. The DC-based team will be one of only two teams operating east of New Orleans, as a New York team has been formed and is already committed to playing in the 2019 season. The DC MLR group is working to finalize the location of the team’s home games.
MLR has an exclusive multi-year national television partnership with CBS Sports Network, and ESPN has also announced an exclusive distribution agreement for the inaugural season to showcase America’s fastest-growing team sport.
“We think Washington, DC will be an exciting and growing market for us,” said Major League Rugby Commissioner Dean Howes. “With New York already committed and now DC coming on board, we can envision a robust rivalry blossoming between those two clubs. As important, having these professional teams in major east coast cities shows all of the young players in this part of the country that there is a future for them in our sport.”
The DC MLR organization hopes to get a boost in interest in rugby and, potentially, season ticket deposits, when RFK Stadium plays host to a Wales-South Africa match on June 2nd. Over 12,000 tickets have already been sold for that match.
“We expect the Wales-South Africa match will help us get the word out in the rugby and local community and start to generate momentum for MLR,” Dunlavey added. “We are planning a lot of activities around that match to get people excited. We’re even thinking about giving the fans the opportunity to help us name our team.”
Similar to Major League Soccer, MLR is organized on a single-entity LLC model, with the league holding all of the player contracts. The individual team owners operate the local team and have responsibility for all activities around it, including hosting games, broadcasting regionally, and operating an academy system to promote the sport at the youth and high school levels and develop local talent.”