Major League Rugby (MLR), the North American rugby union competition, has unveiled an expansion team in Chicago, Illinois that will join the league for the 2023 season.
The league announced the addition on its Twitter feed through a video highlighting the city of Chicago with the closing line of “Major League Rugby Chicago 2023.” No other details were disclosed.
Are you ready? pic.twitter.com/4mT0bcVab4
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) November 2, 2022
The league will now feature 12 teams playing in a two-conference competition. Chicago is the first club in the Midwest to join Toronto in Canada, and US teams in New York, Washington, Atlanta, New England, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Utah, San Diego, and Seattle.
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The 2023 MLR season will feature a 16-game schedule and playoffs. US national network Fox holds domestic rights for the league and will broadcast 18 matches on its FS1 and FS2 linear channels, with the Championship Final airing on Fox Sports.
Viewership on The Rugby Network (TRN) streaming service was up 55% for the 2022 MLR season that concluded last month (June).
Launched in early 2021, the platform now has more than 100,000 subscribers, a rise of 144% from the beginning of the 2022 season.
Overall MLR viewership on Fox was also up 65% after signing a linear broadcast deal with the national network.
In addition, total attendance increased by more than 230,000 (40%) last season, with the league claiming to have attracted 75,000 new fans.
MLR stated that its media value also grew 49.9% to more than $10.2 million.
The new franchise addition comes after the league confirmed the Los Angles Giltinis, and Austin Gilgronis will not compete next season due to “uncertainties surrounding Austin and LA’s team ownership.”
The clubs are owned by Loyals Rugby, an Australian rugby investment company, and Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist, who named the teams after his yet-to-be-marketed cocktails.
Loyals Rugby acquired the Austin Herd MLR team in January 2020, rebranded it as Austin Gilgronis, and relocated the club to Bold Stadium at motor racing’s Circuit of the Americas grand prix facility.
Four months later, MLR announced the LA Giltinis as an expansion franchise for the 2021 season. The team later secured a long-term agreement to play home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which also serves as the home stadium to the University of Southern California’s Trojans, of college football’s PAC-12 Conference.
Giltinis won the MLR title in their first season with the help of big-name Australians, including Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
However, late in the 2022 season, both teams were disqualified after the league said LA and Austin had violated league rules through unspecified misconduct, which reports said were breaches of salary cap regulations.
Gilchrist filed a lawsuit against MLR over the disqualifications.
Global governing body World Rugby has recently increased its efforts to establish the game in the US. In May, it announced the 2031 edition of the men’s World Cup will be staged in the US while the country will host the women’s World Cup two years later.