Rugby, the fastest growing sport in America, the future of American sports, etc., etc. It’s all been said before and previous attempts to form a professional league have failed before any traction could be made. The latest offering, Pro Rugby, seemed like the best bet to get a professional foothold in the states, but it ended faltering after one moderately successful season, leaving behind a trail of broken promises and unpaid coaches, players, and staff. Pro Rugby even had a lot of momentum going for it, coming on the heals of Rugby Sevens premiering in the Olympics, the US national team garnering winning exposure, and many international teams selling out NFL stadiums for exhibition, such as when Ireland historically beat the world’s #1 team, the New Zealand All Blacks, in a sold-out Soldier Field in Chicago. There have been hundreds of local clubs that helped the sport to take hold in the U.S. during the past decade, and now comes the latest attempt to form a professional rugby league in the United States, Major League Rugby.
The success of this latest attempt to from this new professional league will need to rely on better marketing and outreach efforts than previous attempts. Pro Rugby relied on social media for their marketing efforts, but they were still unable to gain a market outside already established rugby enthusiasts. Just like Pro Rugby, major League Rugby has already established its social media presence and is likewise working in conjunction with the rugby governing body in the United States, so what can major League Rugby do to further differentiate its offering in order to generate more fans and exposure, especially with forming no teams in the traditional rugby hotbeds of the Northeast and the West coast?
It appears that by foregoing major rugby areas, where they know fans will already find a way to tune in; Major League Rugby is attempting a more ground-up approach to gaining more exposure. They have stated that “Developing the game of rugby is at the core of the MLR model, and MLR will create local destinations where rugby fans and families can come together to celebrate the highest levels of the American game. MLR stadia will be gathering places for rugby fans and local communities to gather around the game. By connecting the national to the local, MLR will invite America to join the unique, vibrant rugby family and discover its core values: integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect.” They have a very ambitious mission statement, and they appear to have a very strong model to build communities around teams, much like Major League Soccer has done, but also gaining national exposure should still be emphasized. It is in this effort Major League needs to really work at in order to increase its brand exposure. They need to find a way to broadcast games beyond just online streaming. NBC sports and Fox sports are stations that shows European, International, and US intercollegiate rugby, so finding a way to partner with those stations will go a long way to reaching the American sports mainstream.