A professional rugby union league is to be launched in North America for the first time next year, as officials aim to capitalise on the increasing popularity of the sport.
A statement from the Professional Rugby Organisation (PRO) said the six-team league would kick off in April 2016 with the blessing of USA Rugby and World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body.
It will be the first time the sport has had a professional league in the region, where rugby is barely noticeable in a sporting landscape dominated by American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
The teams would be based in major metropolitan areas around the northeast United States, the Rocky Mountains and California, a statement said.
Teams from Canada would be added to an expanded competition in 2017.
“As the fastest growing team sport in the USA, it is the time to have a sanctioned professional competition,” USA Rugby chairman Bob Latham said.
“We are very happy to partner with PRO Rugby in taking this step to popularise the game, to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to show the rugby world what American players can do.”
The league’s inaugural season will be bankrolled by Doug Schoninger, a New York businessman with a background in finance who is PRO Rugby’s chief executive.
“At this point the league’s first season is fully funded. It’s all coming from me,” Schoninger said. He declined to give a figure for the total cost of the new venture’s first season.
Each side would have around 25-30 players per roster while maintaining a quota of five non-North American players per squad.
Rugby has been played in the United States for more than a century and the USA won the gold medal at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics.
Chicago’s Soldier Field hosted international matches involving the All Blacks in 2014 and Australia in early September.