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Major League Rugby drops Austin and Los Angeles teams for 2023 season

North American competition points to uncertainties over ownership for decision.

26 October 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • Austin Gilgronis and Los Angeles Giltinis were suspended last season over MLR rule violations
  • 12-team league to feature new expansion outfit for 2023

Major League Rugby (MLR), North American rugby union’s top club championship, will now feature 12 teams in its 2023 season, after announcing its Austin and Los Angeles clubs have had their operations suspended.

The league cited the uncertainties surrounding the Austin Gilgronis and the Los Angeles Giltinis’ ownership for the decision, stating that the move will ensure a successful campaign and protect the long-term strength and continued growth of the league.

MLR added that it will offer all Austin and Los Angeles players the opportunity to continue playing in the league by holding a dispersal draft.

Eleven of the teams that competed in 2022 will return next year, with the 12th entry to be an expansion side in a new market. An announcement on this is expected in the coming weeks.

The new season will again feature a 16-game schedule and playoffs. The Eastern and Western Conferences will feature six teams each for the 2023 season. Eighteen matches will air on the Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2) pay-TV channels, with the championship final being broadcast on Fox Sports.

“While we understand that this news is disappointing for the fans, players, and stakeholders of these two teams, this decision was made after much deliberation and counsel, and with the best interests of the league in mind,” said MLR commissioner George Killebrew.

“Our league is invested in long-term success. It is vital for us to give our teams and their loyal fanbases the best chance of succeeding both on and off the field in 2023.”

SportsPro says…

The Gilgronis and Giltinis are both owned by Adam Gilchrist, the co-founder of fitness centre company F45 Training, with their names being a reference to cocktails. The pair were disqualified late in the 2022 MLR season due to ‘violations of league rules’ and unspecified misconduct. According to The Guardian, the teams breached salary cap regulations.

The loss of two sides in potentially lucrative markets is a blow. MLR, though, says it is committed to growing the sport in Austin and Los Angeles, and has outlined intentions to have a long-term presence in the cities. Local grassroots projects are set to either continue or be relaunched.

The situation with the Gilgronis and Giltinis puts an unwanted spotlight on the fledgling MLR’s governance. It is also not a good look for USA Rugby, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020, as it prepares to host the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups.

Time may be on MLR’s side ahead of the tournaments but, if it wants to help grow the game in the States, there is much work ahead to build out the fanbase and establish the league as a self-sufficient, financially viable property. 

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