United States
USA Rugby takes next step in development with professional league
Alexander Diegel
November 9, 2015
© Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The news American rugby union fans have been waiting for is finally out -- there will be a professional league in the United States.

While some details are still being finalised, starting in the spring of 2016 six teams will compete in the Professional Rugby Organization -- shortened to PRO Rugby -- while in 2017 the league will expand to include Canadian teams to make this an inclusive North American competition.

A local television broadcast is unlikely at the outset, but fans will be able to stream games live online. USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville explained: "Major League Soccer didn't have a [television] contract for many years, but it's something that's an important part of the puzzle.

"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."

Competing teams will be brand new, meaning there won't be any affiliation with any of the elite clubs currently playing in the U.S. However, players will be able to move between their club and professional teams. "People in charge of the league are very keen to make sure the amateur clubs and the professional clubs work hand-in-hand in every locale that they set up," Melville said.

In terms of who will play in the new league, there is a core group of players that organisers already have their eye on. "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.

"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. And then, with the club players, we're going to be working very locally as well."

There is plenty of reason for optimism around the league, with rugby the fastest growing team sport in America and PRO Rugby offering an interesting alternative for the country's sports fans.

"We're very much trying to promote the team aspect of the sport, and how that works into cooperation and respect, and all that is inherent in rugby. [That aspect] is kind of disappearing from team sports in America a little bit," said Schoninger, pointing to the fantasy leagues and obsession over individual statistics that's seen in major American sports today.

From USA Rugby's perspective, the goal is to further develop their national teams to be able to compete with countries that already have full-time professional leagues. The theory being that a strong professional league will breed a strong national team, which will in turn increase the sport's exposure in the States -- prompting more elite athletes to turn to rugby.

Young rugby players will see their favourite stars, players like Carlin Isles, Perry Baker and Danny Barrett -- names who have already brought commercial success to American rugby -- and in turn want to be like them.

"If you're a young kid playing rugby, it gives a pathway to be a professional, and that helps every level," Melville said. "It helps the collegiate level because we're looking at colleges to see the next cast of players coming into the league. It makes it inspirational for the young players, and that will be a game changer for us. It's exciting, and we hope [the fans] will get behind it."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Alexander Diegel is a club rugby player, a freelance writer and marketing professional. You can follow him on Twitter @ItsAdiegel.

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