Major League Rugby Reflects on Accomplishments from the 2020 Season
April 2, 2020 - Major League Rugby (MLR) News Release
The 2020 Major League Rugby season was viewed as an important growth year, and a crucial time to cement stability. There's no doubt that the 2020 MLR season will always represent unfinished business, from San Diego Legion's unbeaten record but missed opportunity to prove their reign, to the New England Free Jacks that were unable to host their inaugural home match in front of a sold-out crowd. While the season coming to an end put a brake on the building momentum, it's important to note the many milestones that were reached in 2020.
The biggest goal for MLR was expanding television coverage for the 2020 season and making all matches more accessible for wider audiences. MLR grew the existing national television partnership with CBS and added new national partners in Fox Sports and ESPNews. The highest regular season match reached 88,000 household viewers, showing significant growth in MLR's reach.
Commissioner George Killebrew was especially proud of the broadcast improvements. "When I joined the League in 2019 my top priority was ensuring we had strong broadcast partnerships," said Killebrew, "It was a disappointment with the season coming to an end that we had to halt the energy that was ramping up, but from the achievements we were able to reach, it makes me confident that we can continue to raise the bar for 2021 and I'm excited for what MLR has ahead."
Streaming capabilities were also improved greatly with more matches available on ESPN+ and the addition of For the Fans. International viewers were still able to stream all matches on Facebook Live. The significant rise in top overseas talent coming to MLR in 2020 drew larger international audiences into the North American league and marked a turning point in the competition level on the pitch. 2020 solidified that rugby was here to stay in North America and was stepping up to the global stage.
Of important note were the three expansion teams who exemplified success both on the pitch and off it. The New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC, and Rugby ATL all found firm footholds in the standings and metrics across the league. The added pressure from the new expansions were also a driving force in rising attendance numbers across the board. The new expansions already earned the backing of sold out crowds, and the returning teams had the experience and resources to excel further. One MLR team was even able to report more tickets sold in the first five weeks of the third season, than the entirety of 2019.
In line with the growth in the league, MLR was devoted to limiting the uncertainty around the cancellation of the season, particularly for the athletes. The Board of Governors voted to pay all contracted athletes their full salary amounts for the entirety of the 2020 season. "When the COVID-19 Crisis began, player wellbeing was at the center of all decision making," said Killebrew, "When the season was ultimately cancelled to protect the players safety, and to allow our international players to return home to their families, the Board of Governors made the correct decision to pay all of our contracted athletes their full salaries."
With the remainder of matches cancelled for the 2020 season, MLR continued to create content for the fan base. Previous matches will re-air with "MLR Rewind" on For the Fans and Eleven Sports with new commentary added from some of MLR's biggest names, including Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira.
Amidst the global pandemic crisis, MLR was also the first professional sports league to begin a virtual gaming competition among the professional athletes with MLR 2020: Virtual. The virtual matches are live streamed on MLR's Twitch channel with athletes from the MLR teams competing against one another in banter-driven match ups. The Twitch streams are also utilized to raise money for Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund, where fans are further incentivized to donate with prize giveaways during the streams. Round four of MLR 2020: Virtual wraps up tonight, April 2, at 8:00 PM ET at Twitch.tv/MajorLeagueRugby. Round five takes place Saturday, April 4 with a lineup of all MLR teams competing from 6:00 to 9:00 PM ET. The playoff schedule begins Tuesday, April 6.
The long lead-in for the fourth season is proving to be beneficial for growth opportunities which fans will begin to see with another significant milestone to be announced very soon. This next project is all about ensuring there are pathways built for future generations of North American rugby players.
While the 2020 season may always have an asterisk that follows with it, MLR is determined to develop the expanded offseason into a runway for 2021 and beyond. As the first three seasons were comprised of building a solid foundation, MLR now has the ability to rise as a prominent sports league. Exciting times lie ahead for rugby in North America.
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- Major League Rugby Reflects on Accomplishments from the 2020 Season - MLR
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