Major League Rugby (MLR), the North American rugby union competition, has suffered a setback after confirming that the Austin Gilgronis and LA Giltinis will not compete in the 2023 season.
In a statement yesterday (October 25), MLR commissioner George Killebrew said: “With the uncertainties surrounding Austin and LA’s team ownership, it was determined to suspend operations of the two teams to ensure a successful 2023 season and protect the long-term strength and continued growth of the league.
“While we understand that this news is disappointing for fans, players, and stakeholders of these two teams, this decision was made after much deliberation and counsel, and with the best interests of the league in mind.
“Our league is invested in long-term success. It is vital for us to give our teams and their loyal fanbases the best chance of succeeding both on and off the field in 2023.”
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 relocate the club to Bold Stadium at motor racing’s grand prix facility Circuit of the Americas.
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 MRL 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.
MLR said the next season will now feature 12 teams in a two-conference competition, with an expansion team to join a new market and an announcement “expected in the coming weeks.”
Reports have indicated Chicago, Illinois, is set to be awarded the expansion franchise.
The league said all Austin and LA players will be given “the opportunity to continue playing in MLR by holding a dispersal draft in the coming weeks” and it was still “committed to continuing to grow the sport of rugby in Austin, Los Angeles, and the surrounding areas.”
It added: “These markets and their fans demonstrated their support for the game and proved to be cities in which the league intends to have a long-term presence.
“With that in mind, MLR, with USA Youth and High School, will work with Rugby Texas and SoCal Youth Rugby on the imminent relaunch of Rookie Rugby as we as the expansion of rugby in community colleges.”
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.
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.
Image: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for LA Giltinis