Women’s Elite Rugby pro league plans 2025 launch ahead of US World Cups

19 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
Women’s Elite Rugby pro league plans 2025 launch ahead of US World Cups Women’s rugby is growing in US colleges but does not currently support a professional league

eBusiness Weekly

The first US women’s rugby union professional league will launch next year, key stakeholders said, vowing to show “the commercial value in women’s sports is not a moment but a movement”, ahead of a 2033 women’s World Cup on US soil.

“The growth of women’s sports overall has been fantastic to see,” Katherine Aversano, vice-president of Women’s Elite Rugby (WER), told reporters, citing impressive crowds for women’s rugby in Europe but also the stunning rise of US women’s basketball, in particular through the March Madness college event.

“I personally love to see the enthusiasm shine through,” Aversano said. “It’s truly showing the commercial value in women’s sports is not a moment but it’s a movement. And I think you’ll hear that across across the board.

“On the rugby side of things with WER we’re building a strong presence ahead of the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup which is going to be hosted in the United States.

“It’s such fantastic news that the international spotlight is going to be on rugby in America, really starting from 2028 with the Olympics [sevens], and then the US will host the 2031 men’s [15-a-side] Rugby World Cup before the women’s in 2033.

“These are massive events that bring the spotlight but they also bring financial support from international corporations and World Rugby.”

WER aims to build on foundations laid by the Women’s Premier League, a national amateur competition founded in 2009 which kicks off its 2024 season this month.

Seven teams currently compete, out of Boston, New York, California (two), Denver, Minneapolis and Chicago.

Dr Jessica Hammond-Graf, WER president, a former US sevens international and an assistant professor of sport management at Vermont State University, said: “For 15 years, women’s rugby players in the Women’s Premier League have played in an amateur, pay-to-play, cross-country league and the consensus is this model is no longer sustainable.

“We are so proud of everything the WPL has done since 2009 to become such a strong blueprint for us, and we’re ready to take our bold, exciting and empowering sport to the next level.”

“A WER statement said it was “in active conversation with all current WPL teams for the inaugural season. The WER has the intention to start with six to eight teams, with a target model of 30 players per team, and then looks to build toward a strategic expansion plan over the next 10 years. Locations are still being determined.”

Funding, WER said, will come from “private investors and is currently 50% through [a] pre-seed round of funding. The league plans to open the seed round this summer. Along with athlete compensation, the WER will have paid full-time front office staff that will take on team administrative responsibilities”.

Establishing professional men’s rugby in the US has proved tough. Major League Rugby, now in its seventh season, has seen two champion teams (Los Angeles and New York) collapse, unable to generate sufficient income.

But World Rugby has now invested in an MLR team, Anthem Carolina, as it seeks to boost US rugby ahead of the 2031 World Cup. WER officials cited similar initiatives.

Aversano said: “Just yesterday, in advance of the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup in England, the Rugby Football Union announced an influx of $15m just over the next 17 months that they’re going to use to help elevate women’s rugby just within the small country of England. So with our massive sports market, we can expect even more of a robust injection of funds over a much longer period of time.”

Ali Gillberg also spoke to reporters. A former WPL director, Gillberg plays in the amateur league for the Twin Cities Amazons and is an assistant coach with Minnesota state youth teams.

“Girls’ and women’s rugby is definitely the next growth potential for the sport,” Gillberg said. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface on participation and I can’t wait to see how more and more people will start to be introduced to our game.

“The biggest appeal to me with women’s rugby is the level of intensity and pace and joy in the game. It is a full, dynamic, contact team sport where fans get to see the full range and ability of these athletes. WER will provide an opportunity for players to have an actual professional league, which ultimately helps participation in all levels for both players and fans.

“I just saw a stat about NCAA March Madness, about how this is the first year where all of those athletes have had the WNBA [the women’s pro basketball league] for their entire lives. So it’s really exciting to hopefully start that for us here.

“Rugby has a super strong history of being an inclusive space where we welcome athletes of all shapes, sizes and diversity, unlike a lot of other elite sports where we’re just starting to see them catch up with us. You’ll see athletes of all body types and backgrounds on the pitch because rugby really is a place for everybody.

“And with the US playing host nation for the men’s and women’s World Cups in 2031 and 2033, we can’t stress enough how important is to start growing that now. Why wait?” — guardiansport

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