When Austin Elite and Major League Rugby launch next year, they will have a significant television partner along for the ride.
CBS Sports Network and MLR announced an exclusive, multi-year deal for the start-up league Tuesday, beginning with games in April, 2018.
It is the first national TV partnership in the history of American professional rugby.
“Setting up a TV deal of this scale in the first season confirms the potential and the seriousness of our league,” said Thierry Daupin, general manager of Austin Elite Rugby. “We knew we had to prove to the rest of the world that we could have a major media partner. CBS Sports gives tremendous credibility to our league.”
Major League Rugby will debut with seven teams and a decidedly western flavor: Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Glendale (Colo.), Salt Lake City, San Diego and Seattle.
“Partnering with CBS Sports Network is a great step for Major League Rugby and for the sport of rugby in America,” said MLR Commissioner Dean Howes. “There is no question that rugby is growing fast in the U.S. market. A successful professional league is a critical component of that growth.”
The seven MLR markets have established grass-roots programs and venues in place or in development. Austin Elite, which spun off from the Austin Huns this year, has a stadium in Southeast Austin, 4107 Nixon Lane, that is being expanded from 1,800 seats to more than 3,000.
“We look forward to being the television home of Major League Rugby,” said Dan Weinberg, executive vice president of programming, CBS Sports. “MLR will showcase the speed, power and agility of this exciting sport.”
Austin Elite announced eight player signings over the past month, and the league is dipping into a pool of top-tier players from North America, reinforced by up to five international signings in the 15-player Rugby Union format.
Tongan international Paki Afu, a 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound midfielder, was signed by Austin last week. Other signings: utility backs Zac Mizell (a USA 7s Eagles national player), Timothee Guillimin, Antonio Winn and Allan Hanson; wing Sani Taylor; scrum half Knute O’Donnell and loosehead prop Mason Pedersen.