Source: Eric Demarcq via Flickr
It has been a big week of news for Major League Rugby. The majority of clubs have opened training camp and the anticipation of the 2020 season continues to build. Earlier this week the league announced that George Killebrew has been named the 2nd Commissioner in MLR history. Killebrew succeeds Dean Howes, who played a major role in starting the league.
Killebrew comes to Major League Rugby from the Dallas Mavericks where he has spent the last 27 years of his career. Most recently he served as the Maverick’s Executive Vice President. The Mavericks continue to have plenty of ties to MLR as many of their other executives have been linked with the expansion franchise in Dallas.
In the official statement from Major League Rugby, Killebrew highlighted that three of his major focus areas would be ticket sales, sponsorship revenue, and media. His resume certainly points to plenty of expertise in all of those areas.
Killebrew made his first appearance in front of the media on Wednesday morning. The press conference provided 4 major points of interest. First of all, NOLA Gold has a new stadium. the Shrine on Airline. The Shrine on Airline is a baseball stadium that was left vacated by the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
However, the Baby Cakes are relocating to Wichita for 2020 leaving the Shrine on Airline without a tenant. NOLA Gold owner Tim Falcon saw an opportunity in the Baby Cakes’ departure and secured the Gold’s new home.
Killebrew then stepped up to the podium and made two more major announcements. Killebrew announced that Fox and ESPN will be broadcasting 17 MLR games each during the 2020 season. Although he did not provide further details, it is great to see that the Major League Rugby brand will be showcased on two of the USA’s major sports networks in 2020.
Killebrew also made the long-awaited announcement on who will be joining Dallas as the 2nd expansion team in 2021. The 14th MLR franchise will be the Los Angeles Loyals.
The Loyals will be led by Chief Executive Officer James Godfrey. Godfrey is an Australian who has made a significant investment in New South Wales rugby. Godfrey has a brand known as Loyals Rugby and it appears he will be bringing the Loyals branding to Hollywood. You can find more information on the Loyals Rugby brand on their website.
Expanding the league into Los Angeles is a great move for MLR. If you want to live up to the billing of “Major League”, you need to have a footprint in the biggest markets. With the addition of Dallas and Los Angeles, MLR now has clubs in 7 of the top 10 largest television markets in the USA (New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, D.C., Houston, Boston, and Atlanta).
Of course, the Toronto Arrows also occupy the largest television market in Canada. By entering the largest North American markets and a new broadcast deal with two major networks, MLR greatly improves their ability to get more eyes on the sport.
Major League Rugby has steadily expanded from 7 teams in 2018, to 9 in 2019, 12 in 2020 and now 14 in 2021. However, it appears that the league may not be content with staying at 14 teams. Killebrew said that there are currently groups in 4 cites trying to join MLR. Although Killebrew did not say which cities he was referring to, the speculation began.
One of those cities could be Miami. Mourad Boudjellal, the President of Top14 side Toulon, has expressed interest in bringing the RCT brand to North America. Miami appears to be his destination of choice. Toulon is also where Rugby United New York centre (or maybe Eightman?) Mathieu Bastareaud plied his trade from 2011-2019. Toulon seems to be having a growing interest in North American Rugby.
MLR has made a splash with plenty of major announcements this week. The off-season has ended and as teams return to training camp the anticipation of the 2020 season only grows. Round 1 kicks off on Saturday February 8th at 4pm (ET) as the NOLA Gold host Old Glory DC at their new home. Be sure to follow @Bressette4 and @LaymansSports on Twitter for all your MLR updates throughout training camp.