Major League Rugby announces deal with ESPN
RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 03: The ESPN banner during the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the NC State Wolfpack, at PNC Arena. (Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This Tuesday afternoon, Major League Rugby announced a distribution agreement with sports giant, ESPN. The deal will ensure ESPN rugby coverage of 18 games, in the inaugural season of Major League Rugby (MLR).

This announcement combined with the previous deal with CBS Sports Network will allow all 31 matches of MLR’s inaugural season to be viewed live by American and international viewers. In addition to direct coverage, will feature MLR rugby content – further boosting the prominence of the new professional league.

Major League Rugby reaches a monumental deal with ESPN Rugby Coverage

“We are excited to have ESPN as a partner of ours,” said Major League Rugby Commissioner, Dean Howes.

“ESPN is one of the most powerful brands in sports, and we couldn’t be more pleased to provide our fans with access to ESPN rugby coverage through their multi-media platforms.”(Excerpt from MLR media release)

The future is looking very bright for new MLR competition

This announcement is possibly the biggest announcement since the formation of MLR last year. Visibility for the league is of the utmost importance and this distribution deal will give the league as much as it can handle.

Having full stadiums is great for the sport, but that is not the driving factor in the current market. A second major television deal for MLR will cement rugby in the American psyche, quicker than anyone thought possible. The more home viewers that this new league can achieve – via ESPN rugby coverage – will ideally lead to more people in the stands too.

New Orleans Gold flanker Matt Hughston (7) wins the ball in the line out during the Major League Rugby match between the New Orleans Gold and Houston SaberCats on February 24, 2018. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This deal reaches further than just home viewership. Young American athletes will now be able to see American rugby in a way that they haven’t been able to before. Seeing rugby as a legitimate American sports option, will provide the seeds for a movement to grow the game [more than ever before].

Significantly, this agreement is more than either PRO Rugby or USA Rugby have been able to achieve thus far. USA Rugby is entrenched in the fledgling Rugby International Marketing agreement; ran through the burgeoning Rugby Channel. PRO Rugby had a short, inconsistent deal with the small One World Sports.

ESPN Rugby Coverage to grow Steadily

ESPN has been working steadily to bring more rugby content to the US market. This has been with their HSBC Sevens Series coverage, and fantastic Super Rugby coverage this season. The success for the sport, through ESPN rugby coverage will hopefully continue through MLR coverage.

From the broadcasters intentions, MLR matches will make their way onto ESPN television schedules, instead of only the ‘watch ESPN app’. Bars and clubs can then televise matches from the 2018 calendar, which will expose a huge number viewers to the local teams.

At this point though any additional coverage, is a great accomplishment. The new deal supports Major League Rugby in a way that some doubters, would have never imagined. This is great news, even before the first kickoff has happened.


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