Editorials – June 2022

MLR Final This Weekend But Legal Battle Brewing Off the Field

This weekend is the MLR final between New York and Seattle but there’s another battle brewing and it’s not on the field.

The previous division leaders, Austin and LA, were ousted from the playoffs by MLR. MLR issued a couple of vaguely worded statements announcing the disqualifications, on June 3rd they announced Austin were disqualified “due to a violation of league rules” and then on June 7th announced LA were disqualified “due to a violation of league rules”.

On June 10th they provided some clarification, “Austin’s disqualification is due to the team management’s failure to cooperate with an investigation… pertaining to player compensation” and “Los Angeles’ disqualification is due to conduct deemed detrimental to the league”.

Both teams were owned by Adam Gilchrist through the companies Elite Rugby Management LLC and Loyals LLC. On June 9th Gilchrist and his companies filed papers with the Dallas District Court seeking damages in excess of a million dollars from Major League Rugby LLC and Commissioner George Killebrew. The 39 page petition can be viewed here. In their introduction they state:

Major League Rugby, LLC through the conspired acts of its officers including the Commissioner George Killebrew and its members (i.e., the other MLR
teams) have engaged in a concerted and underhanded campaign of harassment, abuse of process and interference to oust two of the top MLR teams from the 2022 Rugby playoffs and the championship game, and to terminate the teams’ MLR license rights in order to sell the licenses to third parties.

How this legal dispute ends remains to be seen, the longer it continues and the more documents that are filed will reveal more about the inner workings of the MLR. Legal battles in professional rugby are nothing new to the American scene, it was just a few years ago that PRO Rugby owner Douglas Schoninger sued USA Rugby when his league failed.

Perhaps of more interest is where Adam Gilchrist and his rugby money will venture in the future. He did know how to create winners and the LA Giltinis franchise not only won the MLR title last year but were on track to be in the final this year. They were successful in marketing rugby in LA, a city crowded with sport franchises. He turned Austin from a mediocre team that couldn’t make the playoffs into a title contender.

It brings up another story involving an Australian rugby entrepreneur, Andrew Forrest, ranked 98th on Forbes Billionaire list. He owns the Western Force and when the Super League downsized in 2018 they gave the Western Force the old heave-ho. Forrest didn’t like this and decided to create his own league that would feature the Western Force and it morphed into Rapid Rugby that had teams from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Samoa, Fiji and China (training in NZ). The league got KO’d by COVID and Western Force were subsequently let back into Super Rugby. That was the end of Rapid Rugby.

Adam Gilchrist, meet Andrew Forrest, let me introduce you to BC Place. Vancouver has resisted the move to professional rugby even though having a professional venue in BC Place. A venue that annually hosts the successful Canada 7s World Rugby series. Many would like to see Vancouver host a MLR franchise but there doesn’t seem to be an entrepreneur who wants to bite that apple. Personally, I think Victoria would suit MLR, Vancouver needs something bigger and international. Is there room for a new league, an Asia Pacific league. Andrew Forrest thought so, add another disgruntled Aussie owner in the mix with Adam Gilchrist and maybe there’s some interest. A couple of teams in California, one in Vancouver and a few on the other side of the Pacific? The world rugby globe is constantly shifting, South African teams are now playing in Europe, anything is possible if it makes sense financially.

Back to the original headline, how this MLR v Gilchrist pans out is wait and see. We’ll be interested in seeing where Gilchrist takes his rugby ownership expertise when the dust settles.

Posted in Editorials, MLR.