Rugby: Burke among owners as Toronto gets team in North American league
The Toronto Arrows have become Canada’s first professional rugby union side.
The Arrows, a beefed-up offshoot of the Ontario Blues regional squad that plays in the Canadian Rugby Championship, will begin play in Major League Rugby in 2019.
Season 2 of the North American league will kick off in January with nine teams: Austin (Texas), Houston, Glendale (Colorado), New Orleans, Rugby United New York, San Diego, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Toronto.
Arrows co-founder Bill Webb’s investor group includes former NHL executive Brian Burke, now a TV hockey pundit. A member of Rugby Canada’s board of directors, Burke is a fan of the sport who started playing rugby as a law student.
Webb says the addition of Toronto makes MLR “a truly North American professional rugby league whose time has come.”
Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen called it “a monumental day for North American rugby and one that is immensely important for Rugby Canada’s aspirations for the growth of our game in Canada and for our men’s 15s national senior team.”
Vancouver has also expressed interest in joining the league, with Karl Harrison of North Star Rugby leading the way.
The MLR says Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C., will join the league in 2020.
The Canadian winter will force the Arrows to open on the road with home games featuring in the second half of the season, which runs into early July. While details are still being finalized, York University looks their likely home.
Canada already has a pro rugby league team in the Toronto Wolfpack.
Debuting in 2017, the Wolfpack currently play the 13-man version of the game in England’s second-tier Betfred Championship.
Webb, the chief investment officer at Waypoint Investment Partners, played for the Brantford Harlequins and Wilfrid Laurier University and is also member of the Rugby Canada board.
Other Arrows investors include Boat Rocker Sports (a division of Boat Rocker Media) Duncan McNaughton, an assistant coach with the Canadian women’s team and the Queen’s University men, Kevin Reed of AR3 Capital and John Ferraro of Mass Marketing Inc.
The team’s GM and vicepresident is Mark Winokur, longtime manager of the Ontario Blues and Canadian senior men’s team.
“The Arrows are committed to playing a high-tempo, physical and entertaining style of rugby that will excite current rugby fans and draw new fans to the game. In short — real Canadian rugby,” Winokur said in a statement.
MLR featured seven teams in its inaugural 2018 season: Austin, Houston, Glendale, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle and Salt Lake City.