USA Rugby

Five Expansion Cities We Want To See In MLR And Why They're Good Fits

Five Expansion Cities We Want To See In MLR And Why They're Good Fits

As North America's top professional rugby league stays on the lookout for emerging rugby markets, a few in particular could make for wise investments.

Mar 11, 2024 by Briar Napier
Five Expansion Cities We Want To See In MLR And Why They're Good Fits

The seventh season of North America’s top professional rugby league, Major League Rugby, kicked off play earlier this month, and a share of new names in the league introduced themselves. 

Anthem Rugby Carolina and the Miami Sharks were the two MLR clubs starting their inaugural seasons on the pitch in Week 1, part of the league’s 12-team contingent that’s seen some shuffling over the past few years. 

New cities hopping into the league and trying to make professional rugby work is always a positive sign for North American rugby development, however, and the MLR has expressed plenty of times in the past that there’s always room for more to join the party.

Who exactly could be next to join, though? 

Well, nothing is official until the MLR announces something, but certain areas and locations of North America could be prime locations for a rugby club to thrive. 

Actually putting a plan to start a club into practice and turning it into long-term success is a different animal, but for places that have strong or potentially strong rugby cultures surrounding them, starting MLR sides in those places could end up making for wise decisions.

Here are five Major League Rugby expansion city candidates we want to see come to fruition — and how each place would fit in building North America’s rugby scene:


What better way to bring the MLR back to the Great White North than by bringing a team to what may be the continent’s biggest hub for the sport? 

British Columbia — especially within the provincial capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island — has North America’s deepest ties of any region with rugby, as the British Columbia Rugby Union has existed since 1889, and its top competition, the BC Premier League, is a hotspot for emerging Canadian, and even foreign-born, talent. 

There’s a reason the Canadian men’s national team, the only North American nation to ever make the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup (in 1991), often was far ahead of its rivals to the south for decades, and it’s because that the groundwork for that unprecedented success was laid across generations in British Columbia with strong facilities, coaching and investment into the game. 

Though in an ideal world, the Toronto Arrows — Canada’s first MLR entry, which folded after the 2023 season — also still would be around to make it two Canadian teams, a B.C.-based club, either in Victoria or the much larger major city of Vancouver across the Strait of Georgia, almost certainly would be an instant hit among Canada’s rugby faithful. 

San Francisco/Bay Area

If North America’s de facto rugby capital is Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the Bay Area in California might just be a close second. 

With the likes of Cal and Saint Mary’s in the region being college rugby powerhouses with plenty of history and pride, Northern California takes its rugby very seriously and would have plenty of built-in diehards ready to let loose at matches if a MLR team arrived. 

Such an expansion to the Bay Area also would be a triumphant return for professional rugby there, as the short-lived San Francisco Rush — who played in the only season of PRO Rugby, North America’s professional rugby league prior to the MLR, before the league folded after the 2016 season — was the last rugby club in the area to try and give it a go in a major professional league. 

It would also be a move that makes geographical sense for the MLR; the San Diego Legion and Rugby FC Los Angeles are built-in rivals located in the same state, whereas other established names in the West, such as the Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors, aren’t too far away, either, relatively speaking. 

New York City

It hurts to not have a major professional rugby team in New York City anymore. 

Rugby New York, the MLR’s first foray into the Big Apple, played five seasons in the league and won the 2022 league title, before folding late last year following failed attempts to sell the team

The Ironworkers were quite successful during their time in the MLR, making the playoffs in all four completed seasons (minus 2020) of their existence, but they had internal issues and also bounced around several home venues. 

Still, even with that track record, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an owner/firm try and give professional rugby in NYC another go one day. 

America’s biggest city is home to one of the most powerful media markets in the world, and the city’s reputation as a melting pot of cultures and community potentially could make a MLR team work with time as one that brings together supporters from all walks of life and backgrounds. 

It also didn’t take long for a club to return to a similarly large market, Los Angeles, after the LA Giltinis were expelled from the league in late 2022. Now, Rugby ATL has become Rugby FC Los Angeles for this season following a change in ownership. 

Maybe another try under fresh backers is what’s needed for rugby to thrive in NYC, too.

Mexico City/Monterrey

Unlike the previous entries on this list, the MLR setting up shop in Mexico would be more about maximizing untapped potential, rather than building upon an established rugby culture that’s already there. 

The MLR (as reported by FloRugby in December) seems to be looking south for potential expansion for the near future, too. 

Mexico has no professional rugby club playing in either of North/South America’s top two competitions, the MLR and Super Rugby Americas, and its national team has never qualified for a Rugby World Cup. However, Mexico’s population of around 130 million people plus a proud sporting culture, particularly in soccer, begs the question on if rugby’s growth in the country could be unleashed with some backing. 

Mexico City’s presence as the largest city in North America makes it look like the most obvious choice for expansion into Mexico on paper, but a Monterrey-based club (which would be located closer to the country’s border with Texas, where the MLR’s Houston SaberCats and Dallas Jackals are located) actually looks more likely in the coming years, as there is some reported interest in the area for an expansion side to begin play in the league in a future season.


OK, this may seem like a bit of a wild card at first glance, but there is a bit of smoke to the idea that pro rugby could come to the Music City. 

MLR CEO Nic Benson told Sports Business Journal last July that the league was in discussions with potential markets, including Nashville, in fact, and with Rugby ATL having now moved to the West Coast, the south could use some more MLR representation to go along with the NOLA Gold and league debutants Anthem RC and Miami. 

A rapidly growing city, Nashville has welcomed and embraced expansion efforts recently in other sports, most notably Nashville SC as the soccer club — founded in 2016 and having begun play in Major League Soccer in 2020 — has been heavily backed and supported. The team now plays in the 30,000-capacity Geodis Park, the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United State and Canada. 

An underrated rugby culture in Tennessee helps Nashville’s chops as a potential MLR city, too, as several players who’ve honed their crafts in the state, particularly through the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and/or club outfit Tennessee Elite Rugby, now play for MLR sides. 

There’s a lot to like, and if talks for expansion to Nashville are still happening, it could become the latest hit in a city known for producing them.

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