SCOTTISH RUGBY have announced that they have taken a minority stake (believed to be 23 per cent) in Old Glory DC rugby franchise based in Washington, which will play in an expanded 12-team Major League Rugby competition from February 2020.
The deal, which was first reported in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper last weekend, will involve a combination of financial and rugby support to the recently formed American club, and see Scottish Rugby’s Chief Operating Officer, Dominic McKay, sit on the franchise board.
Scottish Rugby will also view this new relationship as an opportunity to develop players and coaches outside Scotland, as they already do with Stade Niçois in the South of France, although how that fits in with their commitment to establishing an elite Super 6 domestic league is not immediately clear.
“The strategic partnership was born out of conversations in the US market around expanding the PRO14, and Scottish Rugby’s Board has taken the decision to align with MLR at the start,” explained a statement issued by Scottish Rugby at lunchtime today [Thursday]. “Washington is one of America’s rugby hotbeds, with the D.C area boasting 190 clubs and 7,500 players at school, college and club levels. Overall, the demographics of the market offer great economic potential, with Greater Washington alone including more than 8.5 million residents and rated the 3rd largest media market in the U.S.”
Rugby in the USA seems to have been on the verge of taking off as a commercial enterprise for a number of decades now, and the SRU are not the first established rugby organisation to have attempted to get in on the ground floor. Harlequins and the RFU reportedly losing £1.4 million when Rugby International Marketing (RIM), the marketing arm of American Rugby, ceased trading last year.
The American dream
The Old Glory DC franchise has been developed and is led by former USA Eagles player Paul Sheehy, an owner of Sheehy Auto Stores, and prominent local businessman Chris Dunlavey, President of project manager firm Brailsford & Dunlavey. Both are long-term sponsors, coaches and supporters of rugby in the area.
The MLR season runs from February to June and currently has nine franchises competing in its second season following the arrival of the Toronto Arrows earlier this year. The number of teams will expand to 12 in 2020 with the inclusion of Old Glory DC along with teams from Atlanta and New England. The Washington franchise will play a series of exhibition games throughout the first half of 2019.
“This is a very exciting moment for both Scottish Rugby and our new partners, Old Glory DC,” said McKay. “We have been working with the team behind this new franchise for some time, and I’m delighted we are now in a position to announce our association and support their arrival next season into the MLR.
“The US market has long been a strategic target for us and the potential and passion for rugby will undoubtedly grow in the years to come. It is important we are creative and develop opportunities beyond our own borders and we are very much looking forward to growing our relationship with the team in Washington in the years to come.”
Scottish Rugby Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, added: “This is a strategic international partnership, which I am pleased we have secured to become the first Tier 1 nation to take this step with a team in the MLR. We see this relationship as having a number of benefits for rugby in Scotland as well as developing our global rugby footprint.”
Old Glory chairman Dunlavey said: “From the day we joined forces to explore the feasibility of creating an MLR team in DC, we carefully pursued additional partners who could bring not only capital but also strategic value. We could not have imagined this search ending with a better strategic partner than Scottish Rugby.”