MLR Hawai'i Expansion - Too Much, Too Early
A recent announcement was made by Major League Rugby (MLR) regarding the proposal and acceptance of an initial expansion bid from Kanaloa Hawai’i. The MLR and the Hawai’i group are now said to have entered into a negotiating period in which Hawai’i must meet the leagues expansion requirements and fee.
Although this group have clearly shown the MLR initial signs that prove Hawai’i has the potential to be a thriving market within the league, one has to ponder the complications and or difficulties that would go along with having a team in Hawai’i. The first one that comes to mind is the cost of travel, are teams realistically going to be expected to fly 10+ hours from the east coast for a match? East coast teams such as RUNY and Boston would be effectively doubling their travel costs by adding an annual trip to Hawai’i. Not to mention the fact that the team itself in Hawai’i would have to fly a minimum of six hours to play their closest opponent (Seattle and San Diego). Most MLR teams try to make their away fixtures one day trips if at all possible, this not only cuts down on cost but allows the players to return to their hometowns in time for work on Monday. It seems impractical to think that a player in RUNY, who is only semi-pro, could get the time off from their day job to travel to Hawai’i and back. Another question to ponder is will the team be able to put butts in seats? The last thing this young league needs is more null teams who struggle to have a dedicated fanbase. The optics do not look great when a person new to rugby comes across the MLR on TV and sees an empty stand – people want to be involved in something new, something popular, not something that struggles to fill a stadium.
The MLR needs to seriously take a step back and evaluate what they have created. The US desperately needed this league, and so far, it has been a success. What we do not need is the MLR being naïve and expanding too fast. With the place the world is in right now, the MLR would be lucky to make it through Covid, and expanding as fast as it is does not seem like a smart idea. The league is still young and should consider paying its attention to the current expansion teams of Dallas and LA (a BOMB waiting to explode) as they need to make it off the ground before more cities are considered.