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SRU buys American club stake

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Scottish Rugby bosses take a very curious punt on a yet-to-play MLR outfit

Scottish Rugby has become the first tier one national governing body to link with a club in the newly sanctioned Major League Rugby competition in the United States.

A relationship has been formed with new expansion team Old Glory DC, based in Washington, which will play in an expanded 12-team MLR competition from February 2020.

Scottish Rugby has taken a minority stake in the East Coast side and will provide a combination of financial and rugby support to the Old Glory DC team and see its chief operating officer, Dominic McKay sit on the franchise board.

The strategic partnership was born out of conversations in the US market around expanding the PRO14, and Scottish Rugby’s board has taken the decision to align with MLR at the start.

Washington is one of America’s rugby hotbeds, with the D.C area boasting 190 clubs and 7,500 players at school, college and club levels. Overall, the demographics of the market offer great economic potential, with Greater Washington alone including more than 8.5 million residents and rated the 3rd largest media market in the U.S.

(Continue reading below…)

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The Washington franchise has been developed and is led by former USA Eagles player Paul Sheehy, an owner of Sheehy Auto Stores and prominent local businessman Chris Dunlavey, President of project manager firm Brailsford & Dunlavey. Both are long-term sponsors, coaches and supporters of rugby in the area.

The MLR season runs from February to June and currently has nine franchises competing in its second season following the arrival of the Toronto Arrows earlier this year. The number of teams will expand to 12 in 2020 with the inclusion of Old Glory DC along with teams from Atlanta and New England.

Scottish Rugby COO McKay, said: “This is a very exciting moment for both Scottish Rugby and our new partners, Old Glory DC. We have been working with the team behind this new franchise for some time, and I’m delighted we are now in a position to announce our association and support their arrival next season into the MLR.

“The US market has long been a strategic target for us and the potential and passion for rugby will undoubtedly grow in the years to come. It is important we are creative and develop opportunities beyond our own borders and we are very much looking forward to growing our relationship with the team in Washington in the years to come.”

SRU CEO Mark Dodson, added: “This is a strategic international partnership, which I am pleased we have secured to become the first tier one nation to take this step with a team in the MLR. We see this relationship as having a number of benefits for rugby in Scotland as well as developing our global rugby footprint.”

The founding partners of Old Glory DC agreed. “From the day we joined forces to explore the feasibility of creating an MLR team in DC, we carefully pursued additional partners who could bring not only capital but also strategic value,” said Old Glory chairman Chris Dunlavey. “We could not have imagined this search ending with a better strategic partner than Scottish Rugby.”

Phil Thiel and Eric Fry of the United States battle with Scotland’s Fraser Brown and Jon Welsh during the 2015 Rugby World Cup match in Leeds (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

His partner Sheehy added: “Scottish Rugby is not only one of the top-ranked tier one national governing bodies in rugby, but they own two professional rugby teams in the PRO14; they own and operate Murrayfield Stadium; they’re a one-sixth owner of the Six Nations tournament; and a one-third owner of the PRO14. Whatever we need to learn in rugby, this is a relationship to guide us.”

“This investment by Scottish Rugby is not just a commitment to our team in DC,” said Dunlavey. “This is also a major statement of confidence in the future of Major League Rugby and the growth of the sport in the U.S.”

Old Glory DC and Scottish Rugby worked openly with, and with the full support of, both MLR and USA Rugby while forging this association. “From the start, the owners of MLR’s Washington, DC membership have demonstrated the highest professionalism and a long-term view toward building a sustainable, successful rugby organization,” said MLR Commissioner Dean Howes. “Their link with Scottish Rugby is just another sign of that commitment.”

The team’s founders adopted the name “Old Glory” from a nickname for the flag of the United States – but with what they see as decided connections to rugby culture. The original namesake was a US flag owned by a former American naval captain, who had flown it on his ship as he sailed around the world.

He later kept the flag hidden while he lived in rebel-occupied Nashville Tennessee during the American Civil War, only to fly it again with pride when Union armies marched in to liberate the city. The original Old Glory now resides in the Smithsonian Institution museum in Washington.

“Sure, it’s meant to be patriotic,” said Old Glory DC’s Dunlavey. “Here in the DC area, it’s only right that our brand celebrates our country. But Old Glory is not just any flag. It’s been places. It’s battle-scarred. It’s weather-beaten. But still it flies proud. It symbolizes all the strength, resilience, commitment, and substance over style that are the hallmarks of rugby.”

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Scottish Rugby bosses take a very curious punt on a yet-to-play MLR outfit