By Doug Crosse
In the first year of the Major League Rugby, a lot of rugby fans in Canada watched with interest for a few reasons.
One group was the “why not us?” crowd, trying to see if our favourite under-the-radar sport could stand up to week in, week out scrutiny. Another reason was to see if Major League Rugby is indeed watchable, or if it would be a series of lopsided scores with players we don’t know or care about.
However… once the Ontario – now Toronto – Arrows put their hand up for an exploratory shadow season, with the result being that the team did pretty well, the proof of concept was abundantly clear, and the needle actually moved.
The fact is, other than at the provincial club level Canadians have never had a team to check out week in and week out. The frequency of games is what makes fans out of followers in the NHL, NBA and NFL. Your team might have had a stinker this week, but let’s see what some adjustments, new players, and a different opponent bring in seven days.
For the first time, rugby fans in Canada will have something to chip in around the proverbial water cooler. Did you see how the Arrows did in New Orleans? No – what happened?
The frequency of games will also get fans engaged with their favourite players. Look at how Phil Mack was a fan fave in Seattle last year, and how well he’s known there now. Hubert Buydens in New Orleans – bonified legend.
I have to say from a jaded rugby writer’s perspective, this is the first time since the old NA4 that I have legitimately gotten excited about a team in pre-season. While the TV piece is still unclear in Canada, all games of the 8 game road swing to start the season off will be available with minimal effort. That being said, do yourself a favour and get a Roku or Chromecast, and get coached up on how to snag content from weird places. It will allow you to follow your team in 55 inch glory.
In terms of how the team is being marketed, 5 out of 5 for Bill Webb and the crew. I actually got a Toronto Arrows hoodie this Christmas, my first piece of holiday rugby kit I have gotten in a long time. By the time the team plays on home soil in April, they should be some mix of 4 and 4 to 6 and 2, and ready for a big second-half season dash at home.
Playing part of the season at Lamport will garner a different kind of downtown crowd as well. Rugby League’s Toronto Wolfpack have proven that Liberty Village is a happening spot in the west end.
So giddy-up – and let’s see what these guys can do.
What do you think. How will the Arrows do in their first MLR season? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org