The popular sport of rugby union will soon have a professional league in the United States, USA Rugby announced on its website Monday. Starting April 2016 rugby fans in the states will have their own league to follow, cheekily called the Professional Rugby Organization or PRO Rugby.
“As the fastest growing team sport in the USA, it is the time to have a sanctioned professional competition," said USA Rugby Chairman Bob Latham in a statement. "We are very happy to partner with PRO Rugby in taking this step to popularize the game, to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to show the rugby world what American players can do.”
PRO Rubgy plans to start with just six teams in major metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains and California. It's expected that venues and coaches will be announced starting this week with rosters following thereafter. After the modest beginning, the league plans to expand in 2017, adding more teams, including some in Canada.
The squads in PRO Rugby will be composed of a mix of domestic and foreign-born players. "Each team will be comprised of five international, non-North American players, then there will be Canadian and American pool players," PRO Rugby CEO Doug Schoninger said to ESPN. "The pool players, we will select from our knowledge base. We're obviously working very closely with USA Rugby to identify players we would want, and we'll see if they're available."
“As the fastest growing team sport in the US, it's time to have a sanctioned professional competition." Read More: https://t.co/woocQNhGew
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) November 9, 2015
In a country madly in love with football, rugby union -- a high-energy game involving tackling and the tossing of an oblong ball -- is still a relatively niche sport in the US. But its audience is growing, and an international match between the USA Eagles and the New Zealand All Blacks sold-out the 61,500-seat Soldier Field in Chicago in October 2014, according to the Washington Post. That match broke a 2013 record of just 20,181 attendees that watched the USA play Ireland at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
A television contract is unlikely for the league at its outset, but fans will be able to live stream games online. "Major League Soccer didn't have a [television] contract for many years, but it's something that's an important part of the puzzle," USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville told ESPN. "You have to build from the ground up. There's a world to get this started, everyone's keen to get onboard and help and start building the competition in the sport, and I think we'll have great success."
MLS, founded in 1993, signed in 2015 a major joint television contract with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision. The telecast from NBC of USA Sevens Rugby -- a tournament of a hybrid version of the sport -- has already found success, drawing 1.23 million viewers, reported Forbes.
PRO Rugby's first season is expected to run from April 2016 through July, each team playing six-game in "medium-size stadiums."