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MLR Loses Another Team, Maybe Another on Thin Ice

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MLR Loses Another Team, Maybe Another on Thin Ice

Major League Rugby should have 10 teams next year.

A proposed investment of the Rugby New York Ironworkers has almost certainly fallen through and that means the MLR team will fold.

This comes on the heels of the Toronto Arrows suspending its 2024 season after the death of majority owner Bill Webb. Webb's passing, along with the realization among the other owners of the financial realities of running a professional rugby team, prompted the team to go on hiatus.

The Ironworkers are apparently (according to reports) needed a serious influx of investment and when the latest prospect fell through, they realized it wasn't going to happen.

Meanwhile, the sale of Atlanta to a group in Los Angeles might also be on shaky ground. We might see that team also not take the field.

So while MLR is expanding, adding the Miami Sharks this season, it is also contracting. 

So the 12 teams expected for 2024 might well be 10 ... or fewer. This might actually turn out to be a good thing if the league contracts to just the most financially-stable teams. Financially-stable does not mean well-funded by a very wealthy individual or group; it means in a position where even if the money backers are gone, those who step in see a path to financial viability. It cannot just be about getting a team and hoping its value appreciates so when it's sold the own makes a profit.

Teams such as Utah and Seattle have a community following thanks to player and coach outreach and a desire to get at least some local players on the team. Those teams that just bring in rugby players from overseas don't engender fan loyalty.

Meanwhile, the US Rugby Players Association has issued a statement talking about player support. And, yes, that's a massive issue, especially for the (admittedly small) US-based players who moved to play for a Major League Rugby team that now doesn't play. Remember that Austin and Los Angeles folded in 2022, leaving players and many employees in the lurch.

“It's time for the league to prioritize treating its players better and have more open and honest conversations. “We are more than pawns in a chess game and are tired of waking up to the news that we have just been removed from the board. We are human and have families that count on us and bills to pay.” Chris Mattina, who had recently signed with New York and was with Austin when the Gilgronis folded in 2022. “This is a recurring nightmare, I went through this two years ago and watched guys' lives get ruined and promising players forced into early retirement. It took months of fighting and lawsuits for some to get money owed to them. Let's hope the league does better this time.”

So ... now what?