Former champions New York out of 2024 MLR season

Former champions New York out of 2024 MLR season

New York fans are today left reeling with news that the Ironworkers have handed in their tools. The club has joined the Toronto Arrows in folding suddenly before the 2024 Major League Rugby season. A long-rumored deal to sell ownership of the club has fallen through.

Unlike Toronto and Atlanta, the demise of New York is not related to the tragic death of a majority owner. Since joining the league in 2019 as Rugby United New York, the team has gone through multiple name changes and five different home venues. None have succeeded in capturing a strong home audience.

New York is the second former champion to depart the league, following the expulsion of the LA Giltinis in 2022. It was that same year that New York claimed their first MLR title. Notably, however, the Shield was won at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey with only about 2,000 in attendance. That is by far the lowest figure of any of the five Championship Finals played to date.

The club was founded by James Kennedy in 2018, who later sold the team to New Zealand-based venture capital firm Bolton Equities with French entrepreneur Thomas Savare as a minority owner. For several months the Ironworkers had been courted by a conglomerate of investors that included high-profile modeling agent Thomas Zeumer, but in the end no deal was agreed.

It’s disastrous news for MLR who in the span of a week have fallen from 13 to 11 teams, with both cities among the largest sporting markets in North America. Though New York had announced none of their signings for the upcoming season publicly, there is now a large group of players left in limbo. With most rosters at or near capacity, the league might need to make concessions in the salary cap and hope that the remaining teams show interest in those left adrift.

Among a handful of New Zealanders linked with moves to New York in recent weeks were former All Blacks Aaron Cruden and Charlie Faumuina. Tom Franklin and Nate Augspurger were expected to join from San Diego, and Chris Mattina from Chicago. Uruguay lock Felipe Aliaga had agreed a transfer from Super Rugby Americas champions Peñarol.

Weary eyes now turn to Los Angeles, the destination of the Atlanta franchise that was sold at the end of the 2023 season. The new ownership group are among those invested in the Tel Aviv Heat but to date there has been no team name confirmed, no home venue, and no social media presence at all with just six weeks until the start of preseason.

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