The USA Rugby and World Rugby governing bodies, and North America’s top-tier rugby union competition Major League Rugby (MLR) have announced a strategic partnership to launch a new MLR expansion club in Charlotte, North Carolina, named Anthem Rugby Carolina (RC).
The new team will immediately join the 2024 MLR season, playing their home matches at the 10,500-capacity American Legion Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium is currently mainly used for high school sporting events and as a public venue.
The introduction of Anthem RC will also see the league return to the two-conference system that it had been using in past seasons.
Nic Benson, chief executive of MLR, said: “The launch of Anthem RC is a game-changer in this shared journey to grow and enhance the game of rugby in the US, offering a clear pathway for player development and greater opportunity for USA Rugby as North America gears up for the Rugby World Cup.
“We’re grateful to the leadership of both World Rugby and USA Rugby for their investment in this endeavor, knowing that it helps to lay a sure-footed foundation that will anchor the continued expansion of the game in the US.”
USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young added: “This remarkable collaboration between MLR, USA Rugby, and World Rugby is an inspiring example of progress we can look forward to as rugby in America begins a new trajectory.
“Anthem RC provides a truly unique opportunity for accelerated development with USA Rugby High Performance while continuing to bolster MLR as a key pathway for the USA Men’s Eagles.”
World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said: “Working with strategic partners in the USA, and backed by our executive board, we are activating a transformative and long-term growth plan for rugby in the US that will enable a great sporting nation, and the sport as a whole, to unlock the true potential of hosting men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033 respectively.
“This ambitious plan is centered around making the sport more relevant and accessible to more people in the US, a nation that loves sport and events, anchored in entertainment.
“In addition to accelerating the clear potential of women’s rugby and cementing sevens in USA sports culture, we must sustainably grow the elite men’s game and for the USA Eagles national team to be successful on the world stage.
“This type of partnership has proven successful for RWC 2023 quarter-finalists Fiji with the establishment of the Drua, and we are excited about the huge potential of Anthem RC, not just as a pathway, but as a major franchise within a long-term vision for MLR success, shared by all stakeholders.”
MLR and USA Rugby have previously collaborated to support the USA Hawks initiative, which aims to help young American players and USA-qualified prospects improve via a dedicated performance pathway.
Anthem RC’s addition follows last month’s announcement by MLR that its Rugby New York team has officially withdrawn from the league, only two weeks after the Toronto Arrows’ late November exit.
This is the second consecutive year where two teams from the league have folded, with the LA Giltinis and the Austin Gilgronis being suspended from the league ahead of the 2023 season for financial irregularities, posing questions over the financial viability of the fledgling rugby competition.
Despite this, the league has made efforts in recent months to boost commercial revenue, partnering with premium experiences company Legends to attract funding and grow the competition.
Through the tie-up, Legends manages global partnerships, digital marketing, and business intelligence for the league to “drive fan engagement and optimize revenue generation.”
The success of MLR in North America could be a key component in the future success of the 2031 men’s and 2033 women’s Rugby World Cups (RWC), both of which are being hosted in the US.
The US failed to qualify for the 2023 RWC but will qualify automatically as hosts for the 2031 edition, and the strength of the country’s domestic competition could be key to any performances the team has at the tournament, as well as local interest from potential US fans which will be necessary to deem the competition a financial and cultural success.