By Justin McKinney, Sports Editor
In a stunning announcement, Major League Rugby, America’s first professional rugby league, and ESPN will be joining forces to cover all 31 of the league’s games this year as it kicks off its inaugural season in April.
The league had previously announced a signing with CBS Sports Network that would bring coverage to one game a week and playoffs and while this deal still exists, ESPN’s partnership would bring a much larger scale of coverage as every game will be on ESPN 3 and available to stream live.
ESPN would also provide extensive reporting on the league and the eight teams as they fight for the United States first professional rugby championship. ESPN also plans to bring the league to a more global market, which would put the league in the same ranks with other top league’s Premiership Rugby in Europe and Super Rugby in the South Pacific.
Since debuting in the Summer Olympics in 2016 with 7’s rugby, many argue that Rugby has far surpassed lacrosse as America’s fastest growing sport and given that our nation’s first professional league has already been picked up for coverage by the world-wide, I would say they are right.
Even in the world of digital media, the popular podcast by Barstool Sports, Pardon My Take, has claimed that lacrosse is now America’s fastest growing sport again, only because rugby isn’t a “growing sport,” it is mainstream now.
Even on a local level, the MIAA, Massachusetts governing body for high school sports, announced last spring that this upcoming spring would be the group’s first year governing over high school rugby; which was previously a club sport.
Given America’s love affair with the NFL, it seems only natural that eventually rugby would soon become popular in the states.
Between the high intensity, chess-like strategy, break neck speeds, and hard-hitting action; one would not have a very tough time selling rugby to an American TV audience.
Also, with the growing concern of concussions in football, it only makes sense that rugby would start to rear its head in American professional sports as players tend to suffer far less concussions that hockey or football players due, ironically, to the lack of helmets.
While the league still has to get off of the ground and gain a following, I predict that it will be a hit with Americans and given that the teams only play once a week, in the MLR’s case Saturday’s, the similarities to the NFL are eerie.
The MLR kicks off its first season on the weekend of April 22 and will play until July 7 when the league commences with their championship match. The league will also be adding a New York based franchise for the 2019 season, who plans to host regular exhibition matches this upcoming season with the Mystic River Rugby Club out of Boston.