USA Rugby

'Historic Partnership': World Rugby-Backed Charlotte Club To Join MLR

'Historic Partnership': World Rugby-Backed Charlotte Club To Join MLR

Welcome to the MLR, Anthem Rugby Carolina — and, by and large, World Rugby — as North America's top league announced Friday a seismic development for 2024.

Jan 19, 2024 by Briar Napier
'Historic Partnership': World Rugby-Backed Charlotte Club To Join MLR

In a seismic development that could see huge ramifications for USA Rugby, Major League Rugby announced via a news release Friday that a Charlotte-based club — forged as part of a partnership between the league, USA Rugby and World Rugby — would play in the 2024 MLR season.

The club, which will be known by the name Anthem Rugby Carolina, will see the team be made up mainly of “the most exciting young American talent available,” per the release, with hopes to build strong foundations for the United States' national team as it competes for qualification to the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia and the 2031 Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Anthem RC’s addition to MLR also will return North America's top rugby league to 12 teams and a two-conference format, per the release. 

The club’s first match, per the schedule on its website, will be March 3 against the New England Free Jacks at its home venue of the American Legion Memorial Stadium, a 10,500-capacity ground with a list of current tenants that include USL League One soccer club Charlotte Independence.

“The new club is a gamechanger for American rugby and will create new pathways for player development and grassroots participation, building on the outstanding foundation our teams have forged during the past seven years.” MLR commissioner Nic Benson is quoted as saying in the release. “We’re grateful to the leadership of both World Rugby and USA Rugby for their partnership in this endeavor as we work toward our shared goal of a record breaking 2031 World Cup on U.S. soil. 

"Charlotte is one of the best sports cities in the country, with a passionate fan base for everything from basketball to soccer, and we’re thrilled to be able to bring home its first Major League Rugby franchise. There already is a great rugby community in Charlotte, and I’m excited to introduce this sport to new fans across the Carolinas.”

World Rugby’s involvement in a MLR club is similar to its announced support of Super Rugby teams Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, both Pacific island-based sides that joined Australia and New Zealand’s top rugby league beginning with the 2022 season. 

MLR and USA Rugby previously had been partnered through the USA Hawks development side, with many players on the squad often coming from MLR teams.

The new club’s inaugural roster is not listed on the team's website, but the league release stated it will feature “players from various MLR teams who are eligible to participate on behalf of the U.S. in international competition.” 

“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 (United States) 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,” World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin is quoted as saying in the release.

“This ambitious plan is centered around making the sport more relevant and accessible to more people in the U.S., a nation that loves sport and events, anchored in entertainment," he added. "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 for the USA Eagles national team to be successful on the world stage. 

"Today’s announcement is a major milestone to achieving that. Coupled with long-term global calendar certainty, our investment, along with our partners, will provide an opportunity for a well-supported high performance pathway geared toward achieving results on the world stage. 

"This type of partnership has proven successful for RWC 2023 quarterfinalist 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.”

A second expansion club for 2024 (along with the Miami Sharks) is welcome news for MLR, which had a tumultuous offseason, losing the Toronto Arrows and Rugby New York, which folded to sink the league to as low as 11 teams.

The Anthem RC name itself “embraces the concept of rising stars throughout its brand,” per the release, and is inspired by the U.S. national anthem. 

Along with Miami and Rugby FC Los Angeles — the name of the former Rugby ATL club after offseason relocation from Atlanta to LA — Charlotte’s club will be the third in MLR this season to feature new branding.

“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,” USA Rugby CEO Ross Young is quoted as saying in the release. “The Charlotte program 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. The level of teamwork that has occurred across all parties to bring this project to life is unprecedented and we’re thrilled to see it on a rugby pitch this year.”